What are the barriers to effective use of RFID in the pharma sector? Well, it's not the numbering system. It doesn't need to change, though there can be no question that the Electronic Product Code would be enormously beneficial in policing and tracing to a more finite level the suspect or diverted product and thus removing distribution leaks.
The packaging doesn't have to change, either, only the means by which a package is tagged. The tagged area, particularly at the Rx level, requires a very small footprint.
The scanning of product in production doesn't change, only the added security of automated scanning is created and the observance of the 0HIO principle (Zero Human Intervention Operations).
There are some important procedural changes that will lead to a more secure environment. These are the ability with RFID scanning equipment to maintain the thread of custody, to enable the correct drug to be dispensed more readily.
So why is there not a clarity-of-use model for RFID in the pharmaceutical industry? I see two reasons. First, because the regulatory agencies and the pharmaceutical companies aren't on the same page. Regulators view RFID as useful but not imperative, while the pharma execs see it as useful but not mandated. Where's the incentive? Would tamper-evidence legislation have been adopted if it were merely recommended? Without greater incentive, why would drug makers add cost to their packaging operations?
Second, the conference organizers and systems integrators have hijacked the process by which RFID should become part of the pharmaceutical packaging world. Unless that grip can be shaken, the real stakeholders in this issue—the drug makers—will never bring the benefits of RFID to the world of pharmaceutical packaging.
John Greaves, formerly RFID global firm director with Deloitte Consulting, recently joined NCR as vice president of retail compliance.
--By John Greaves