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U.S. Biologics Distributor Markets RFID Solution to Its Customers

FFF Enterprises believes its Verified Inventory Program-Consignment system can lower a hospital's costs by automating the inventorying and monitoring of blood products, vaccines and pharmaceuticals stored in cabinets located onsite.
By Claire Swedberg

When a customer adopts the VIPc system, FFF Enterprises works with that company to identify appropriate PAR levels, by determining which goods need to be stored within the cabinet and when they would need to be reordered. The resulting recommended-size cabinet is then brought to the customer and installed.

When FFF Enterprises prepares a shipment of biopharmaceuticals for a customer, a tag is applied to each product and its unique ID is linked to its description and expiration data in the Intelliguard system. The goods are then shipped to the customer, which receives the items and places them within the temperature-controlled cabinet. As soon as the products are placed on the shelf, the cabinet's reader identifies each item's RFID ID. Every cabinet requires an Ethernet, Wi-Fi or cellular connection to the server, and thus continually sends updates indicating its temperature, as well as the tags being read on its shelves. MEPS offers two types of cabinets—both temperature-controlled—one that chills products at between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius (35.6 and 46.4 degrees Fahrenheit), and another that keeps the items at an "ambient" temperature between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius (68 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit).

FFF Enterprises' Patrick Schmidt
If a product is removed from the cabinet, the reader will no longer detect that item's tag, and the medication's status will be updated in the software to indicate its removal. If not returned, the item will be presumed as having been used on a patient, in which case the customer can be billed for the product and, if PAR levels have been reached, an order can be processed for a replacement. If it is returned, the software can determine if it has spent an excessive amount of time outside the cabinet's controlled temperature—and, if so, issue an alert to both FFF Enterprises and the health-care provider's management, notifying them of the problem. In this way, both parties know the quantity on-hand, as well as the expiration dates and—if items have been removed from and returned to the cabinet—whether quality has ever been compromised. In addition, if a customer receives a product that has been at another facility, FFF Enterprises can provide a record indicating that the item has been stored appropriately at all times and is not due to expire.

For patients, Schmidt says, the solution provides the advantage of allowing hospitals to keep medications ready on an emergency basis, which could potentially save lives. What's more, he adds, FFF Enterprises can leverage the system should one of its customers have an emergency need for a specific product. With the VIPc system, he explains, FFF Enterprises can determine which nearby facilities have that product, and then deliver that item quickly to the required site—a feature that could also save lives.

Additionally, FFF Enterprises intends to share usage data with the manufacturers of the products it distributes, including how quickly they are being used for patients, and when they are not being utilized. For manufacturers, Schmidt notes, this would be of great value once a large number of customers began using the technology. He says he fully anticipates large-scale adoption of the solution by his customers, stating, "We have a grand vision with this technology. The interest level is palpable. I'd say the momentum off the announcement is very clear.... We're very excited about this program."

Schmidt declines to indicate the billing model, but does report that the cabinets would be owned by FFF Enterprises, and not leased or sold to users.

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