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Pharma Ponders a Track-and-Trace System
At last week's RFID Track and Trace Health Care Summit, there was a great deal of focus on what state governments and the FDA will require the pharmaceutical industry to do, and less emphasis on the business value of RFID.
In addition, you would think wealthy drug companies would be interested in using RFID to track the chemicals they receive into inventory for manufacturing, achieve inventory visibility, improve order accuracy, confirm delivery upon receipt and gain needed efficiencies in executing drug recalls. I heard no talk about any of these benefits (though I didn't attend every session, or stay for the second day).
I attended a panel discussion with representatives from two of the largest drug distributors: Ron Bone, senior VP of distribution support for McKesson, and Heather Zenk, director of integrated solutions for AmerisourceBergen. Bone made what I thought was the key point of the event: If the industry takes the five-year delay as a reason to stop its work involving RFID and track and trace, regulators will step in and tell the industry what it should be doing. The FDA and state governments won't accept the excuse that drug companies can't meet pedigree requirements in 2015.
The challenge for the pharmaceutical industry is that utilizing RFID for track and trace requires sophisticated systems that can capture data about individual bottles with 100 percent accuracy. That is possible, but it will require improvements in the technology, as well as changes in the packaging. More than one speaker said they could read every tag on 60 bottles in a case, but once they went over that number, reliability began to decrease—with both high-frequency and ultrahigh-frequency systems.
We've seen RFID systems improve dramatically over the past two years. Certainly, if the drug companies work with the vendor community to develop products, they can achieve the 100 percent read rates required for e-pedigree. But it won't happen if the industry sees the five-year delay in pedigree requirements as an excuse to do nothing. And the industry will certainly lose the public's trust if people get sick or die from counterfeit drugs. I encourage the industry to heed Bone's warning: Keep working toward a system that is reliable, protects the public and guards companies from a potential public relations crisis.
Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark's opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog or click here.
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