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Cardinal Health Deploying Drug E-Pedigree System

The pharmaceutical distributor says its DC in Sacramento, Calif., will support both HF and UHF passive RFID tags by summer's end.
By Andrew Price
May 08, 2007
May 8, 2007—To be ready for California's upcoming pharmaceutical electronic pedigree (e-pedigree) requirement, Cardinal Health predicts it will have RFID technology up and running in its Sacramento, Calif., distribution center by summer's end. The implementation will support both HF (13.56 MHz) and UHF (915 MHz) passive RFID tags—despite Cardinal Health's determination that HF RFID does not work well in its operations.

The $74.9-billion-a-year company distributes one-third of all pharmaceutical, medical, lab and surgical products in the United States. Headquartered in Dublin, Ohio, the firm is installing both HF and UHF RFID interrogators in its operations so it can read the item-level serial numbers encoded in passive RFID tags on the individual bottles of drugs it receives from drug manufacturers. The serial numbers will then be used to update each item's e-pedigree, a secure file that documents each move a product makes through the supply chain. Cardinal Health will use RFID to record when it receives a drug, as well as the date it ships that drug to a specific pharmaceutical retailer or other customer.

Although quite a few states have passed legislation calling for drug pedigrees that can be paper-based, California is the only one with a law requiring drug manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors to create e-pedigrees to track and trace all prescription drugs distributed within the state. Originally, California's e-pedigree legislation was supposed to take effect in January 2007, but the law was pushed back two years and is now slated to go into operation in January 2009.

"For every item we receive, we have to receive a pedigree," says Julie Kuhn, VP of operational technologies at Cardinal Health, "and for every item that is shipped out, there has to be a pedigree." In addition to collecting RFID data for drugs it receives from manufacturers and distributes to customers, Cardinal Health will also use RFID interrogators to cull the serial numbers from any pharmaceuticals returned to its Sacramento distribution center. That data will be used in an e-pedigree to document the return. That e-pedigree, along with the drug, will then be sent back to the manufacturer.

The company has spent months testing RFID to track pallets and cases of drugs, as well as individual items, to better understand how tags are applied, encoded and read at normal production speeds (see Cardinal Health Readies Item-Level Pilot). Those tests have led Cardinal Health to conclude that EPC Gen 2 UHF tags are optimal for its operations (see Cardinal Health Deems RFID Pilot a Success).

During its tests, Cardinal Health achieved read rates as high as 99.9 percent when using EPC Gen 2 tags on individual items packed in cases and moving down a conveyor at 60 feet per minute. Cardinal Health's conveyors typically run 120 feet per second, and even at that speed, the system successfully read the UHF Gen 2 tags more than 90 percent of the time.

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