By BCI
Bar Code India

For a while, the imitation of drugs has spread like wildfire, not just acting as a grave economic peril to the pharmaceutical industry but also jeopardizing public safety and security.  Though new laws and regulations along with many other steps have been taken to alleviate the menace, it emerges that the most reassuring one is the selection of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology.

Introduction to RFID Technology

The quality of medical products is an indispensable parameter of product safety in the pharmaceutical industry. The end-user inclination towards tech-based solutions to improve the security in pharmaceutical warehousing and productivity and efficiency of their business logistics has been a harbinger of good news for vendors and RFID companies in the pharmaceutical industry.

RFID readers are growing to be more effective and potentially life-saving when monitoring drug quality and product flow. Rigorous supervisory frameworks lead to the increased deployment of RFID readers in supply chain operations to ensure adherence to accreditation conditions set by the administration.

Under next-generation RFID tags and readers, drug manufacturers and wholesalers are implementing an efficient labeling system to reduce medical errors and improve the safety of personalized pharmaceutical products.

What is RFID?

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a particular type of radio technology that employs radio waves to recognize tags attached to an object and hence recognize the object.

RFID tech is foreseen to play a vital role in the healthcare industry for identifying counterfeit drugs, improving traceability, and decreasing mix-ups and other mistakes common at hospitals and pharmacies.

Additionally, RFID tech can be used for streamlining the transportation of products in and out of warehouses in the wholesale pharmaceutical industry through a batch reading of multiple units.

Issues the medical and pharmaceutical industry is facing

It is estimated that at present, 10-15% of the global drugs supplied are counterfeit. The prevalence is higher in developing countries in Africa and in parts of Asia and Latin America, where up to 30–60% of drugs on the market are counterfeit pharmaceuticals.

India is a primary supplier of inferior quality drugs, as 35–75% of fake/counterfeit drugs globally arise from India.

Counterfeit drugs usually hold unsanitary or contaminated elements, and there is a considerable hazard of contracting a communicable disease or suffering from some adverse side effects from fake drugs. And even if the counterfeits do not carry effective medicine, patients’ lives are at stake!

Impact of COVID-19

The Covid-19 hasn’t spared any industry in the world- and the medical industry, which we become increasingly dependent on day by day, has had the worst hit- with threats, challenges, and difficulties.

Import and export restrictions on raw materials and medicine container areas disrupted the pharma business, with companies already losing.

With medical plants in China, one of the biggest producers, shutting down wholly or partially working, customers worldwide have had it rough without delivering their products.

This crisis might spurt the prices of drugs and medical services soon.

New Medicine Developments-postponed

As the world makes the pandemic its center of attention, development of other drugs has taken a back seat. Additionally since most conferences were canceled, postponed, or held online, discussions on most crucial medical aspects became complicated.

Plausible application of RFID in the pharmaceutical industry

Drug Tracing System

A drug tracing system gives combined end-to-end management and control of drugs from the manufacturer and distributor, through intermediate wholesalers, to the healthcare institutions that order drugs, and eventually to the patients who get the prescriptions.

To achieve product traceability across various businesses and companies, the capacity to distinguish individual items by barcode or RFID automatic identification tags is needed.

RFID-based tags can store large amounts of data, and they also permit further data to be added. RFID tags differ in size and are affected by liquid, metal, etc. and hence should meet the requirements — shape, content, and purpose — of different drugs to be traced.

Distribution departments

To comply with new compulsory history control obligations for biological products, the distribution departments of drug manufacturers and distributors had to implement control and to track at the unit level quickly and are grappling to find ways to lessen the increased administrative and workload.

Drug Manufacturers

The RFID tag gives a unique identifier that is extremely difficult to counterfeit, which aids in suppressing the manufacture and distribution of counterfeit drugs.

Counterfeits cause loss of sales to the pharmaceutical companies. Not only this, the availability of fake drugs tarnishes their corporate image, making it seem that they cannot produce safe drugs.

In 2007, Pfizer Inc. spent $5 million to implement an RFID system for tracking Viagra*1.

Similarly, Purdue Pharma L. P. began RFID tagging OxyContin*2, and GlaxoSmithKline conducted an RFID pilot study to tag Trizivir*3.

To those unaware, all of these drugs are costly and well-known, so the availability of counterfeits would have unfavorable impacts on patients.

Wholesalers

The major US pharmaceutical wholesalers advanced with RFID pilots and linked their systems to the traceability systems of the drug manufacturers in the first half of 2007.

In Japan, some RFID applications are being employed to stop mix-ups in manual picking work at distribution centers. In these schemes, the RFID tag is not attached to the drug itself, but some distribution centers have reported an incredible 30% decrease in work time based on these techniques.

Healthcare Institutions

Hospitals and pharmacies are using RFID-based systems, including a system – that checks the dosage of wrong drugs by equaling RFID-tagged drugs with the patient’s RFID-tagged wristband (when drugs are administered to patients).

Another RFID-based system is the one that helps to dispense drugs and hence prevents mistakes in mixing and assembling drugs.

Several RFID-based drug dispensing support systems were evaluated in pilot projects sponsored by the METI (Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry), the MIC (Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications), and the MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology).

Future of RFID in Hospitals

Hospitals and clinics are readily adopting tech-based solutions. Moreover, regulatory requirements such as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) and cybersecurity vulnerabilities have boosted RFID adoption in hospitals.

With increasing concerns about patient security and privacy, medical personnel prefer RFID readers or tags over password-based security systems.

Various technologies are being introduced in this landscape to meet the changing need of access control and other security requirements in hospitals and clinics.

Market players are now concentrated on offering RFID devices and systems that are reasonable and integrated with other technologies to play against other reader technologies involved in hospitals and clinics.

Many benefits

There are many benefits for the pharmaceutical industry to incorporate RFID tech into their supply chain.

The first being, stocking drugs. It is a difficult task that compels more information and organization than is the case usually.

Furthermore, a more efficient supply chain would save time and money.

There is still a more substantial reason – patient safety, with a more accurate way of error prevention with drugs

Companies like AstraZeneca, that have already embraced RFID, have had tremendous accomplishments with dispensing over 30 Million RFID-enabled syringes of Diprivan.

FDA recommendation

The FDA has recommended its form of rules and regulations to be applied to RFID tech to the pharmaceutical industry.

Pfizer, the world’s biggest drug company, has been the first to implement high-frequency RFID tech into its supply chain by tagging all packages of Viagra starting in December 2005.

Smart Packaging

Non-compliance in the drug industry is another costly risk to patient’s health.

Patients are repeatedly perplexed about their pills.

Some don’t even fill their prescriptions in the first place.

While around 30-50% of patients don’t take their medication correctly, and 28% of those patients terminate their medication prematurely, packaging that is easier to read, understandable, and more user-friendly can help a lot.

The National Institute of Health held a six-month trial using a new idea of intelligent blister packs, which contained RFID tech that would record when the tablets were taken.

This trial was done with a great deal of success and is being followed by Fischer Clinical Services, who are doing their own clinical trial Mediary of Canada.

E-Pedigrees

E-pedigree means an auditable electronic device that records every step taken by the package from its manufacture to its final sale, at retail. This chain of custody is utilized to deduce the genuineness of each product.

Federal law has formulated expanding an electronic system to replace the paper-based chain-of-custody; this is the new e-pedigree program.

IBM has released an RFID system for pharmaceuticals, which it has said will “accelerate the adoption of RFID into the drug industry.” This modern system is a mix of software and services that will automatically catch and track the pharmaceuticals’ every movement through the supply chain. This will reduce the cost of inventory, making recalls, and better control product flow.

Another added feature is that RFID makes it more troublesome for counterfeit drugs to be sold at the market. By using their well-known WedSphere software platform and enabling clients to use existing assets, IBM has made a product that can be rapidly adapted to almost any pharmaceutical production line.

Pilot Programs

IBM has teamed up with Cardinal Health in a pilot program to help simulate whether UHF RFID can be used in a -natural world setting, such as the pharmaceutical industry. “Cardinal Health’s test of RFID under real-world conditions has demonstrated that the technology has real promise to provide an added layer of safety,” said Renard Jackson, vice president and general manager of global packaging services for Cardinal Health.

IBM and Cardinal Health’s first pilot program had differing extents of success.

Many of the RFID reads were unstable and heavily hanging on the placement of the package and the RFID tag itself. Yet, the groundwork was laid for the next generation of RFID.

Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart has seized Pfizer’s cue in integrating RFID tags in its pharmaceutical line, now requiring two dozen pharmaceutical suppliers, including Pfizer, to place RFID tags on cases and pallets of its pharmaceuticals.

Additionally, the FDA has recently endorsed the use of RFID tech to authenticate and track pharmaceuticals throughout the supply chain. This comes hand in hand with its recent thrust for an e-pedigree program.

RFID nowadays delivers the most worthwhile and popular technology for battling counterfeit products.

Nonetheless, the startling rise in deaths due to toxic, Substandard, and fabricated medical products is accelerating the hunt for more efficient technologies.

However, RFID is out of any threats presently and will proceed to defend its position with high usage among drug manufacturers, wholesalers, hospitals and clinics.

In healthcare, from intelligent packaging, which records when the patient takes medication, to e-pedigrees, which authenticate a pharmaceutical, packaging in healthcare is changing rapidly, and RFID is at the vanguard.

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