Standards create a stronger Healthcare Digital Thread

GS1 Australia

Thursday, 01 November, 2018


The healthcare industry is changing at a record pace as emerging technologies and massive amounts of data are made available for use in all parts of the healthcare supply chain.

As raw materials travel to manufacturing sites and products are distributed to healthcare providers for patient treatments, stakeholders throughout the supply chain are increasingly working together to simplify the complexity of the global healthcare environment.

Healthcare stakeholders are transforming business and clinical processes to be much more efficient, to deliver safer patient care with better outcomes and at lower costs.

At the heart of this dynamic healthcare ecosystem is GS1, a global and neutral non-profit organisation that develops and maintains global standards for business communication. It introduced the barcode in 1974, arriving in Australia in 1979 where GS1 Australia provides standards and solutions for over 20 industry sectors. Today, the company enables more than 18,000 member companies, of all sizes, to become more efficient by implementing the GS1 system.

For more than 13 years, GS1 has worked side by side with healthcare stakeholders to develop and support the successful implementation of GS1 standards that now provide the required foundation for healthcare’s digital future.

With its published five-year strategy, GS1 Healthcare, GS1’s voluntary healthcare user group, continues its support of healthcare stakeholders in more than 150 countries around the world. At the same time, the global standards organisation is embracing the speed of change in healthcare with the recognition of new developments that can and will accelerate the implementation of standards — all the way to the patient.

Healthcare Digital Thread

These strategies — for today and in the future — are simply and powerfully illustrated in GS1’s Healthcare Digital Thread, which brings GS1 standards to life throughout today’s healthcare processes.

It graphically depicts the collaborative interrelationships and connections between healthcare stakeholders and how their use of GS1 standards helps drive the physical flow of products and services as well as the digital exchange of patient and transactional data.

Catherine Koetz, Industry Manager – Healthcare at GS1 Australia, said the Digital Thread illustrates how GS1 standards will help advance what’s important for healthcare stakeholders today: patient safety, traceability, regulatory alignment and quality data.

“It also communicates how we will move forward during the next five years, to leverage standards as the ‘digital bridge’ for greater interoperability across stakeholders’ systems and processes.”

All the international standards are taken into account including GTIN (Global Trade Item Number), SSCC (Serial Shipping Container Code), GLN (Global Location Number), GSRN (Global Service Relation Number) and EPCIS (Electronic Product Code Information Services).

As part of GS1’s patient/provider strategies, the digital bridge creates an interoperable architecture to allow a single GS1 barcode on a medical product package to be scanned and have the user, depending on their characteristics (eg, consumer, healthcare provider), be able to access the necessary online product information, complementing reliance on information on the label. This strategy will drive the efforts towards one global barcode on medical product packages.

To assist with single unit ID and patient/caregiver ID, GS1 will increase education and implementation of GS1 identifiers and barcodes for patient and caregiver identification and primary packaging identification to enable scanning at the point of care.

This technology is extremely beneficial for recalls and reverse logistics for situations where there is an adverse event, a design flaw production error, a labelling issue, temporary excursions, a counterfeit or diversion issue and even incorrect information on literature. It enables anyone in the supply chain to raise an issue and all stakeholders to be alerted, from the raw materials supplier, the manufacturer, the patient, the provider, logistics and government organisation.

Create digital twins with unique identifiers

Benefits of a Healthcare Digital Thread are obtained throughout the supply chain. For example, consider how healthcare manufacturers will benefit as they create the ‘digital twins’ of products by uniquely identifying them with GS1 standards that carry valuable information about the product such as its serial number, batch/lot information and expiration date.

Kathy Wengel, Worldwide Supply Chain Vice President at Johnson & Johnson and GS1 Global Management board member, advises, “We can no longer make just a product; we also need to create its digital twin. Working with healthcare providers and government, we can then start to build the digital thread — the ability to trace the product back to the manufacturer and track it forward to the healthcare provider where it is administered to the patient. Over time, this will allow us to build healthcare systems that are based on outcomes.”

With the digital thread, product data can be efficiently captured, exchanged and analysed for improvements to product manufacturing. Also, manufacturers can improve the quality of their products by avoiding mistakes caused by manual processes that are now automated, using quality product data. They can increase the velocity of new product introductions, the execution of needed product changes, and deliver new services to distributors and healthcare providers based on comprehensive product data.

Healthcare providers will benefit as the digital thread calls for increased collaboration with solution providers to increase interoperability between electronic health records, enterprise resource planning, clinical systems and other relevant systems and solutions.

Focused efforts to further engage and educate reimbursement agencies — integral stakeholders in the digital thread — will help to drive the implementation of global standards as part of healthcare reimbursement processes.

Patient delivery improvements in quality and efficiency

In the model hospital where global standards have been implemented in business and clinical processes, improvements are expected in the quality and efficiency of healthcare delivery to patients. With increased focus on patient and caregiver identification, GS1 standards will help to minimise medical errors and ensure a more positive patient experience throughout the care process. And with its digital twin using virtual reality technology, a hospital can help educate healthcare professionals, students and remote communities on the use and benefits of GS1 standards in its most common tasks and processes.

As new providers and technologies enter the healthcare industry, GS1’s disruptive strategy will take effect, researching and monitoring developments that may impact the healthcare environment. When identified, digital disruptors will be encouraged to adopt GS1 standards to be part of the Healthcare Digital Thread.

Maria Palazzolo, Executive Director and CEO of GS1 Australia, sums up the opportunity for all healthcare stakeholders: “The environment surrounding healthcare in Australia is evolving rapidly due to changes in population and society, and technology. We have worked with the healthcare industry to integrate these into our strategy.

“We will increase our efforts to drive deeper implementation of the GS1 standards, and further enhance the focus on healthcare providers and patients by helping to build a stronger digital thread across the industry.”

A strong digital thread translates to a vital healthcare industry with significant benefits for all stakeholders. It is the future of healthcare and promises an exciting future that is being created today.

The full Digital Thread diagram can be found here.

Top image: Key stakeholders in the Healthcare Digital Thread supply chain, showing traceability relationships that highlight the patient/consumer as the key end user who will benefit from GS1’s Healthcare strategy.

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