RFID Mandates on Drugs Might Not Be the Answer

A mandate from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could jumpstart RFID adoption in the pharmaceutical sector—or it could create a sweeping backlash.
Published: August 10, 2006

I was speaking at an event recently, when a provider of radio frequency identification systems (who shall remain anonymous) approached me. He was exacerbated by the slower than expected progress of RFID adoption in the pharmaceutical sector. “If the FDA would just issue a mandate, everyone would have to do it and the playing field would be level for everyone,” he said.

His views, I think, are shared by many RFID vendors. They believe that pharmaceutical manufacturers don’t want to adopt RFID because the cost would put them at a competitive disadvantage, or it would simply eat into profits. An FDA mandate, they reason, would force them to adopt, which would drive down the cost of tags and readers, benefiting everyone.

I’m not so sure I agree. Government mandates can often energize companies to lobby against new rules. Instead of fostering adoption, a mandate could have the exact opposite effect.

I think a better approach is for the FDA to work collaboratively with pharmaceutical companies to achieve the goal of securing the drug supply chain in the United States. The FDA is going to issue drug-pedigree guidelines and encourage greater adoption of RFID without mandating it (see FDA Will Issue Drug-Pedigree Guidelines).

As much as I’d like to see RFID adoption take off in this sector and deliver all the promised benefits, I think this is the right approach. Counterfeit drugs are not such a huge threat to public health that e-pedigrees driven by RFID tracking are necessary today. And companies need to adopt RFID because it delivers business benefits, not because someone in Washington thinks it’s a good idea.