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Italian Pharmacy Gains Loyalty With RFID

ASM Venaria's customers are using NFC-enabled cards to track prescription purchases and the results of screenings, such as those measuring glucose or blood pressure levels.
By Claire Swedberg
At the pharmacy, when paying for a diagnostic check, a customer taps the ASM Card near a FEIG Electronic OBID Classic-Pro RFID interrogator, which reads the ID number of the card's tag, as well as any other information stored on it. The readers—installed by systems integrator H&S Custom and supplied by Softwork (FEIG's Italian distribution partner)—send the data to ASM Venaria's server over an Ethernet connection. The server utilizes Farmaconsult software to manage the data (such as purchases or test results) resulting from the user's visit. That information is also written to the card's tag. The pharmacy staff can then input data related to that procedure, and link it to the ID number on the tag that was read.

Every customer can receive his or her personal health diary in any of the chain's stores, simply by tapping the card next to a pharmacy reader.

By January 2010, ASM Venaria plans to extend the services on the ASM Card to enable customers to load funds on an electronic wallet on the card, in order to pay for products or services at the company's stores. In addition, cardholders will be able to earn rewards for recycling plastic bottles, by accumulating points on the card for each bottle returned to the stores for recycling. The points can then be used for discounts when paying for goods at ASM Venaria.

The electronic wallet, which can store up to €30 ($45), will let cardholders pay for products at the pharmacy, as well as for school meals and public transit fare. ASM Venaria hopes to distribute 30,000 cards during the next two years, to be used for these purposes. To that end, RFID interrogators have already been installed in the city's school cafeterias, and on its buses.

Because the tags and readers comply with Near Field Communication (NFC) RFID specifications, a customer will also be able to use his or her own NFC-enabled mobile phone to serve as an ASM Card. NFC-enabled phones are expected to be sold in greater quantities within the next few years.

"The initial introduction of the card was not easy for the diagnostic component," Corrado says, noting that middle-aged and elderly customers were initially suspicious of the technology. However, he adds, those participating in the pilot became comfortable with the system and saw benefits in tracking their health-care history, "and having all the purchases listed in a report at the end of the year for budget, tax or insurance purposes."

Currently, approximately only 30 percent of ASM Card holders utilize the Web component. "We expect that it will grow in the future," Corrado states, as more participants become accustomed to accessing information over the Internet.

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