Precision logistics for precision health

UPS launches UPS Premier for digital, near real-time tracking; expands its US logistics network and reorganizes its healthcare business


A series of announcements over the past several weeks highlight a “business transformation,” as UPS describes it, of its services for healthcare suppliers. At the top, the company now has a single business unit, UPS Healthcare and Life Sciences, bringing together 114 UPS healthcare facilities globally and its Polar Speed and Marken units. Clients will have dedicated sales and support teams across the network, operating under harmonized quality and service levels. “Connecting our global healthcare activities is a logical step to further improve the customer experience,” said David Abney, chairman and CEO.

The company also announced a significant upgrade of how it will track shipments through its network. Details are still sketchy, but the new UPS Premier service (at “Gold” and “Silver” levels), launching in January, will include “on-package sensor technology to enable priority flow paths, sortation, contingency actions and delivery services for critical healthcare shipments,” according to the company. “This service will benefit healthcare customers who have patient-critical, time-and temperature-sensitive products, personalized medicine, DNA & gene therapy, investigative drugs, specialty pharma, specimen logistics (labs), implantable medical devices,” notes Dan Gagnon, UPS VP.

Near real-time tracking is not a new capability, either at UPS or among healthcare logistics providers generally, but the cost and difficulty of connecting across the links in a supply chain are onerous; as UPS notes, many shipments change hands 10 times from manufacturer to dispenser. Data from the Healthcare Distribution Alliance’s annual Factbook indicates that only a minority of pharma shipments are monitored and tracked today.

Capacity expansions
The company is adding 1.3 million sq. ft. of total distribution space in the US, with new facilities in Louisville, KY and Harrisburg, PA, and expansions in Atlanta, GA; Columbus, OH; Reno, NV; and Tracy, CA. Additionally, the company earned EU Good Distribution Practice (GDP) certification in France and Germany. Total capacity is now over 8 million sq. ft., with half of that in the US.

Lastly, news that represents both capacity and technology enhancement is represented by UPS announcing Kaiser Permanente as a customer of its UPS Flight Forward drone service, joining AmerisourceBergen and CVS Pharmacy. Drone delivery of drugs or lab samples is still proving its viability as a business, in the US at least; for now, the path for moving lab samples within a healthcare network seems the shortest to sustainable operations. “We move millions of supplies and equipment in and around our 75 million square feet of medical space and to the homes of our 12.4 million members,” said Kaiser Permanente chairman and CEO Bernard Tyson. “This drone project will allow us to think into the future about additional possibilities of perfecting logistics and meeting the ever-growing demands on our enterprise.” It’s worth noting that while most people might think of Kaiser Permanente as a California health system, it actually operates in eight states and the District of Columbia, serving 12.4 million lives.