The healthcare industry is rapidly evolving thanks to technology, but a number of recent developments suggest one of the drivers of a new wave of innovation might come from a marriage between healthcare players and transportation firms.
Case in point: earlier this month, French pharma firm Sanofi announced a partnership with on-demand delivery upstart Rappi, which has a network of bicycle and motorcycle-based couriers who deliver everything from food to personal care products. Under the partnership, Rappi will deliver over-thecounter (OTC) drugs manufactured by Sanofi directly to the homes of patients.
As FiercePharma’s Beth Snyder Bulik noted, delivery services like Rappi are very popular in Latin America not just because they offer convenience and allow consumers to avoid traffic, but also because low credit card penetration means that many consumers can’t pay for online purchases with credit
cards, necessitating cash-on-delivery payments.
Paul Martingell, Sanofi’s VP of consumer healthcare in Latin America, expects that the Rappi relationship to help Sanofi “get much closer to our consumer and…break down barriers. We (can) make the healthcare journey easier and simpler, and from our side, reach consumers whenever they are when
they need us.”
And the marriage between the pharma giant and on-demand startup might not stop with OTC medication delivery.
According to Bulik, the two companies will “also investigate future healthcare-related deliveries and digital applications such as online doctor appointments coupled with prescription delivery. The two will co-market the service as they build out the healthcare category and use collected data to identify trends
—for instance, regions where a cold or flu outbreak might be surfacing, or days when allergy symptoms are peaking.”
In North America, transportation behemoth UPS appears to be aggressively looking to expand its healthcare business.
Last month, it was reported that pharma giant Merck is eyeing a partnership with UPS that would consist of the transportation firm transporting nurses to patients for in-home vaccinations. Reuters explained how the partnership would work:
“Workers in UPS’ 1.7 million-square-foot healthcare complex at Worldport [Louisville] will package and ship the vaccine to one of the more 4,700 franchised U.S. UPS stores. A home health nurse contracted by UPS’ clinical trial logistics unit known as Marken will collect the insulated package, transport it the “last mile” to the patient’s home and administer the
vaccine, which will target a viral illness in adults.”
There are a number of hurdles that could derail the UPS-Merck partnership from moving beyond the trial stage, including the possibility that payors won’t cover this kind of vaccine delivery. Pharmacies and clinics will also likely do whatever they can to fight back as in-home vaccinations would encroach
on their territory. But experts believe that initiatives like the UPS-Merck vaccination program could, among other things, help reduce costs.
In addition to programs that seek to leverage its existing resources, UPS is also exploring more futuristic healthcare delivery programs. In North Carolina, the company is operating a trial under which it transports medical samples as part of a partnership with Matternet, an autonomous drone upstart, and WakeMed, a hospital.
According to CNBC, “the drone delivery service aims to replace WakeMed’s reliance on a fleet of courier cars, which currently transports most of the hospital’s medical samples.” To support the program, UPS developed a secure drone container that is capable of safely carrying samples of blood
and other specimens.
That a growing amount of technological innovation in healthcare is being driven by transportation is not surprising as much of the industry depends on getting people and things from point A to point B in a timely, reliable and cost-effective manner.
For upstart and established transportation firms alike, finding ways to leverage their existing assets to help healthcare firms presents attractive opportunities. As Chris Cassidy, a former GSK executive and head of UPS’ global healthcare logistics strategy, stated, “Over-the-threshold services is where the world is headed.”
For healthcare players, transportation-focused innovation is especially attractive because it has the potential to reduce costs and better meet patient expectations as healthcare becomes consumerized.
For these reasons and more, expect to see even more activity in this space in the coming months and years.
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