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Wegmans Eyeing RFID for Prescription Management

The supermarket operator is planning to test whether placing RFID tags on customers' prescription orders will make locating and ringing up the orders faster and more accurate.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jan 10, 2008Wegmans Food Markets, a $4 billion supermarket operator based in Rochester, N.Y., thinks RFID can add a dose of organization and speediness to its in-store pharmacies. The retailer is planning to test an RFID-based drug-tracking system, the goal of which will be to determine whether placing RFID tags on customers' prescription orders could make locating and ringing up the orders faster and more accurate. The average in-store pharmacy in the 71-store chain processes about 2,400 drug prescriptions weekly, but some locations process up to 5,000 per week.

While the company isn't ready to share many specific details about the pilot, nor when it is likely to launch, it has set out some specific goals. These include tagging and tracking individual bottles of prescription drugs and then monitoring the bottles' movements throughout the pharmacies, up to the point of purchase. Through the pilot, Wegmans hopes to determine how RFID technology and the EPCglobal network architecture for tracking tagged goods could improve the company's business processes and customer service inside the pharmacy.

Debbie Parker
Mike Merulla, Wegmans' application development manager for pharmacy systems, and Debbie Parker, the retail chain's director of pharmacy business solutions, say they're also exploring how the usefulness of RFID tags on individual pill bottles or blister packs could be extended beyond the point of purchase. For this application, they're seeking partners interested in developing in-home RFID tag interrogators that consumers could use to organize their drugs and manage when and how much they should take.

The system would present an electronic form of the instructions printed on the drug packaging, but the electronic version could be customized according to patients' specific needs, such as audio recording for the visually impaired. According to Merulla and Parker, such in-home applications won't likely take place during the firm's initial RFID tests within store pharmacies, however. Instead, they would be part of follow-up tests.

At the pharmacies of participating Wegmans stores, EPC Gen 2 RFID tag encoders and interrogators will be installed and used to encode RFID inlays embedded in labels placed on prescriptions as they are filled. A serialized global trade item number (SGTIN) will be encoded to each tag, and also printed on a 2-D bar code on the tag's adhesive label, on which the EPCglobal logo will appear. The SGTIN will serve as a unique identifier for every tagged item (each bottle or blister pack in a prescription) and be associated with the recipient's contact information and important medical information, such as known allergies. No personally identifiable information will be encoded to the tag.

Once an order is complete, a pharmacist will place the medication packet in a drawer, referred to as a will-call area, where orders are filed by each customer's last name. Readers built into the drawers will take periodic inventory of the tagged orders, and pharmacists will be able to confirm whether an order is in the drawer, as well as its location within the draw, by viewing a computer monitor (rather than by searching through the drawers), thereby saving time.

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