In the nearly two months since Frank first warned about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the pandemic has spread to 169 countries or regions around the world.

Today, China and Italy are still some of the worst affected, and the U.S. is a close third, with 50,000 confirmed cases. Markets are crashing… supply chains have slowed or stopped altogether… it’s a health and economic crisis of unprecedented scale.

In response, companies like Ford and GM are looking to shift production to supplying materials or manufacturing personal protective equipment and medical devices. If successful, this extra production would alleviate stress on hospitals and doctors facing supply shortages.

But as suppliers like 3M and Honeywell can already attest, there’s still the hurdle of a supply chain infrastructure built for a world without the coronavirus.

Multimillion-dollar contracts that normally take months to finalize are being signed off within hours… and many suppliers are asking for cash upfront, with little time to vet new customers for fraud. Add to that the archaic software systems built around these longer timeframes, and it’s easy to see why many in the industry are looking to blockchain for solutions.

This week, Forbes noted five key ways blockchain could improve the global medical supply chain in times of both calm and crisis. From Forbes:

Traditional tools of excel sheets and google forms are currently being used to govern supplies, with legal contracts being uncertain, an inability to fly to verify factories’ capacity, and a breakdown of trust of [traditional] trade finance and letters of credit…

Lack of trust is the biggest bottleneck preventing this market ramping up quicker, and speed is of the essence in the next few weeks.

This “trust bottleneck” is where blockchain comes in… and here are five ways (paraphrased from Forbes) it could improve the current situation…

Product requirements. Blockchain would provide a mechanism for health systems to easily update factories with the latest product requirements and specifications. Assembly lines across the globe could shift or adjust production immediately with minimal delay or disruption, all according to the exact same specifications.

Supplier credibility. Blockchain would provide a way for health systems to credibly assess manufacturing factors like quality control and production volumes by accessing verifiable, real-time factory and product data.

Financial payments. Probably the biggest selling point… Blockchain would ensure verifiable, upfront payments could be paid out immediately upon pre-agreed production milestones, and otherwise bypass the delays and fees associated with traditional banking. 

Customs certifications. Blockchain-based customs certification is already used to regulate exports ranging from wildlife to pharmaceuticals. Applying a similar system here is a no-brainer.

Transportation tracking. A transparent supply chain means supplies need to be securely tracked around the world. That means knowing exactly where a shipment is at any given moment. Blockchain-based provenance tracking would give buyers and suppliers real-time shipment info while also reducing shipping errors and lost products.

While there has been some back and forth over a U.S. digital dollar in the stimulus packages being negotiated in Congress, it doesn’t look like a blockchain overhaul will be coming to medical supply chains anytime soon… but Forbes does have a point.

Incorporating a blockchain backbone into current supply chains—medical or otherwise—would be a game changer. Whether or not that change begins with government, or companies like 3M and other suppliers, remains to be seen.

In the meantime, if you want to know what’s happening in the markets as COVID-19 unfolds… check out Frank’s live video updates on YouTube.

Chris Gaarde
Contributing Editor, The Token Tracker

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