RFID can definitely do recalls. Thats one of the clear lessons learned from a recent three-month RFID/barcoding pilot study managed by the U.K. consulting firm Aegate, a spinoff of PA Consulting Group devoted to combating pharmaceutical fraud. Technologies put in place to test simulated drug recalls ended up facilitating the real-life recalls of Vioxx and Cialis in the U.K.
The study involved the use of barcoding and RFID labeling at just two points in the supply chain at the manufacturer and pharmacist. It aimed to test whether the two technologies could enable real-time oversight (via online data monitoring) at the point of sale in order to better protect patients and enhance anti-counterfeiting and product recall measures.
The pilot also brought branded and generics manufacturers together: Merck Generics UK, Merck Pharmaceuticals, Novartis, Schering Health Care and Solvay all participated.
Several important lessons were learned, says Aegate spokesperson Alison Williams. We spoke with Williams to find out more.
|Aegates study provided pharmacists with two-in-one RFID/barcode scanners and relied upon them to scan every unit of drugs passed on to consumers.|
The greatest hitch in getting pharmacists to cooperate was difficulty placing scanners in easy-to-reach locations, says Williams. Scanners were outfitted with screens providing real-time product data through a broadband connection. Therefore, scanner
locations depended on where those connections were in the pharmacies.
The technology is working as a means of tracking counterfeit product and facilitating recalls. Among the items passed from plant to pharmacy were countless controlled dummy cartons which were adulterated in some fashion or marked for recall. Pharmacists were expected to scan these packs on a daily basis, and there was a 100% success rate in catching irregularities, Williams says.
Even pilot technology can facilitate real-life recalls. During the course of the study, British authorities recalled Vioxx and batches of Cialis. We hadnt envisaged wed have recalls for real, says Williams. But the pharmacists found our technology useful. Pharmacists in the U.K. have traditionally received recall notices and information via fax machines. In this case, they were able to access real-time information on the recalls on the scanners and act quickly and appropriately.
The following is the official press release announcing the completion of the pilot study:
Successful Aegate Pharma Pilot Demonstrates Potential to Improve
Patient Safety Using RFID and Barcode Technology
Revealed today, results of a three month pilot, carried out by Aegate, a PA Group Company, in association with BT, show that fraudulent medicines can be identified at the point of dispensing; increasing patient safety and improving the service provided by pharmacists.
The results of the pilot confirm that radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags and printed barcodes can be mass-deployed and that pharmacists are keen to gain the advantages of this technology. They also highlight opportunities to support the dispensing process and provide compelling evidence of the value of uniquely identifying medicines.
Forty-four pharmacies across England and Wales took part in the pilot between October 2004 and January 2005. These included independent community pharmacies, pharmacy chains, hospital pharmacies and doctors dispensaries. Six drug manufacturers took part including Merck Generics UK, Merck Pharmaceuticals, Novartis, Schering Health Care and Solvay.
More than 180,000 pharmaceutical products, ranging from needles to Nurofen, were scanned at the point of dispensing. Approximately 20,000 products were tagged with either a barcode or an RFID tag containing a unique number. When checked by the pharmacist using Aegates custom-built scanner, the drug was authenticated if it matched details on a secure database, and rejected if not recognised.
In the UK, 11 per cent of all hospital admissions are due to medication errors, and there is a growing problem of fraudulent drugs. The pilot has shown that authentication at the point of dispensing is a simple scanning process and can reduce the risk of errors as well as alert dispensers to illegal, expired or recalled products before they are given to the patient. This is important in light of increasing concerns about the level of dispensing errors being made, particularly as the Department of Health has set a target of reducing errors by 40 per cent.
The trial also highlighted improvements that could be made to the way drug recalls are carried out. Several recalls occurred during the pilot and as a result, real time notices were provided to dispensers as they scanned the items. This has led one in four community pharmacies to keep using the scanner even though the pilot has now ended.