Specialty Distributors Serve a Range of Healthcare Providers

HDA Research Foundation’s Specialty Pharmaceutical Distribution Publication Shows Intricacies of a Unique Market Segment

December 05, 2022 New benchmarking data released today by the HDA Research Foundation reveal the continued efficiency and reliability that HDA specialty distributors deliver to providers treating patients with chronic, complex or rare diseases. As illustrated in the 14th edition of Specialty Pharmaceutical Distribution Facts Figures and Trends, a typical HDA-member specialty distributor delivered products to approximately 56,000 provider ship-to points daily in 2021.

Independent physicians account for the largest amount of unique shipping points, at nearly 18,000, followed by hospitals and hospital-owned clinics (nearly 16,000), retail pharmacies (10,200) and specialty pharmacies (7,400). Hospitals remained specialty distributors’ largest customer segment, comprising an average 40.6 percent of sales volume, followed by independent physician-owned and -operated clinics at 35.2 percent; the latter segment continues to see decreased year-over-year sales volume.

“The HDA Foundation’s new Specialty Pharmaceutical Distribution found that while the second year of COVID-19 showed continued fluctuations in supply and demand for healthcare, specialty distributors largely remained a vital partner to providers — and helped ensure that the U.S. specialty pharmaceutical supply chain ran efficiently, securely and in a cost-effective manner,” said Perry Fri, Executive Vice President of Industry Relations, Membership and Education, HDA; and COO, HDA Research Foundation. “Further, given the unique nature of these products, specialty distributors are equipped to handle a range of special handling requirements, while offering many value-added services to support the industry’s diverse provider customers.”

According to IQVIA, specialty products made up 49.8 percent of the total U.S. pharmaceutical market ($289 billion) in 2021. Specific to specialty distributors, oncology products comprised the greatest sales volume among all therapeutic classes, at 52.3 percent on average, aligning with a return to in-person office visits as the COVID-19 vaccine rollout took hold. Autoimmune and inflammatory products (11.6 percent) and supportive care therapies (7.2 percent) rounded out the top three therapeutic product categories by sales volume.

Published annually, Specialty Pharmaceutical Distribution Facts, Figures and Trends offers insights into distributor performance metrics, distribution models as well as payer dynamics; a chapter on evolving biosimilar trends also is included. The report is based on primary survey data of three HDA specialty distributor members with reported sales over $1 billion for the 2021 fiscal year and national product distribution. Secondary research from leading healthcare organizations complements primary findings.

As highlighted in the latest edition:
  • On a regular business day, an HDA-member distribution facility processed approximately 4,233 orders at a fill rate of 99.7 percent and delivered orders to providers within 1.6 days. Distributors reported warehousing 21.4 days of inventory on average.

  • Specialty distributors reported having agreements in place with just over 200 manufacturer suppliers.

  • While 0.8 percent of specialty pharmaceutical product units were returned in 2021, the average annual value of these returns was approximately $163 million per distributor.

  • Approximately 40 percent of warehoused products required refrigerated storage in 2021, while 4 percent were required to be frozen. Further, 67 percent of specialty distributors reported using temperature-monitoring devices to monitor shipments of specialty pharmaceuticals, though only a small number of shipments (0.6 percent) included these devices. All distributors reported that manufacturer requirements and product value influenced their decision to monitor product temperatures in transit, followed by customer requirements (67 percent).

  • Distributors cited manufacturer factory or production line shutdowns, production delays or manufacturer product discontinuations as some of the top reasons for drug shortages in 2021.
The 2022 edition of Specialty Pharmaceutical Distribution Facts Figures and Trends is available as a complimentary download from The publication is supported by gold sponsor Genentech, A Member of the Roche Group; and silver sponsors Regeneron and Takeda Pharmaceuticals America, Inc.

The Healthcare Distribution Alliance (HDA) represents primary pharmaceutical distributors — the vital link between the nation’s pharmaceutical manufacturers and pharmacies, hospitals, long-term care facilities, clinics and others nationwide. Since 1876, HDA has helped members navigate regulations and innovations to get the right medicines to the right patients at the right time, safely and efficiently. The HDA Research Foundation, HDA’s nonprofit charitable foundation, serves the healthcare industry by providing research and education focused on priority healthcare supply chain issues.

The HDA Research Foundation is the 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable organization of the Healthcare Distribution Alliance (HDA). The Foundation serves as the thought leader in driving research, education and discussion for all healthcare supply chain stakeholders, enabling the industry's ability to deliver efficient, safe and secure patient access to medicines and medical products. Learn more at