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Six U.K. Drugmakers Pilot RFID

Merck, Novartis and other companies are running a trial that tags individual items to detect dispensing errors and counterfeit drugs before they reach patients.
By Jonathan Collins
According to Aegate, the pilot is not about proving the technology involved but testing how the scanning of products can be incorporated into the dispensing process. During the pilot, each pharmaceutical item's RFID tag or bar-coded label will be scanned by the manufacturer before entering the supply chain, and the unique serial number on the tag or printed bar code will be linked that item's product data, including such things as the item's expiration date, and stored in a database managed by Aegate.

The item is scanned again prior to being handed to a patient by the pharmacist using multiprotocol scanner. Deployed at the pharmacy by Aegate, the multiprotocol scanner not only can read an item's RFID tag but also its printed bar code, regardless of which of the three formats the bar code uses (EAN 128, Datamatrix 2D or RSS 14).

Aegate's device reads tags and scans bar codes.

Each scanner uses a broadband network connection, supplied by U.K. telecom carrier BT as part of the trial, to communicate with a central database managed by Aegate that will enable pharmacists to confirm they using genuine product as well as that it is the correctly product, that it has not past its expiration date and is not subject a recall.

According to Aegate, there is a significant need for a system to counteract both counterfeit and incorrectly dispensed drugs. "In the U.K. it is estimated that around 11 percent of hospital admissions are the result of either prescription or dispensing errors, and those errors result in an average hospital stay of seven days," says Rhodes.

Interest in the RFID technology from the pilot's dispensing outlets has heightened recently because of a recall of two drugs in the past six weeks—the first drug recall in the U.K. since 1994. The drugs have been recalled by the U.K.'s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) because of counterfeits in the U.K. supply chain.

An independent advisory group is overseeing the pilot, made up of pilot participants and representatives from three U.K.-based organizations: the National Pharmaceutical Association (NPA), the Dispensing Doctors Association (DDA) and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB).

Aegate expects to publish the results of the pilot in late January and, depending on the results, plans to commercially offer the database management service to pharmaceutical companies and dispensing outlets.

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