The Evolution of Drug Tracking: from Barcodes to The Registry

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the difference between storing the drug’s entire dataset of attributes and history on the vial or syringe label vs. storing only a serial number on the label and using that unique number as an identifier to lookup all of the drug’s data in a database. In this post, we’ll build on that concept to show how it simplifies integration between medications and systems.

Barcodes are Great at Identification…

Barcodes are great at identifying certain types of objects. They can store an identifier such as a UPC or a GTIN-14 (containing an NDC). They’re cheap to print and relatively cheap to read. And, perhaps most importantly, they can be read by machines.

For something like a grocery store checkout, barcodes work well. It doesn’t matter which specific 20oz bottle of Coke Zero you pulled off the shelf; they’re all basically equivalent and interchangeable. They all have the same price and the same ingredients, and you’re not trying to track that singular bottle once it leaves the store. So, the presence of the barcode, coupled with a “point of sale” system that can read it, dramatically speeds up the checkout process.

Also, you’ll probably never use the barcode on the particular bottle again. You won’t scan it when you put it into your refrigerator or when you finish drinking it.

…But Barcodes Are Not Great at Tracking

Drugs are different than Coke Zero (well, ok, that’s debatable depending on how many bottles a day you drink, but I digress). In addition to simple identification, the use of drugs in common hospital workflows have more complex data needs and tracking requirements.

  • Refrigerated and multi-use drugs need to be tracked as they leave refrigeration or get opened for the first time, respectively.
  • Controlled substances need to be managed and accounted for in a stricter way.
  • Recalled drugs need to be identified, by lot number, at a moment’s notice.
  • And that empty vial of propfol or fentanyl you just found on the bathroom floor, well…you get the idea.

Drugs have a lifecycle with important events — from manufacturing to patient administration — that are worth tracking. But here’s the rub: The barcode gets printed during manufacturing. So, any event that happens downstream in the supply chain or hospital can’t be tracked in the barcode.

Enter the Serial Number + Registry

The barcode is static and can’t be updated after it’s printed on the label, way upstream at the manufacturer. But a database…on computer…available over the internet…in the year 2020. Well, that might just be a bit more dynamic and capable than our trusty old barcode.

You can record events throughout the drug’s entire lifecycle, such as beyond-use dates and chain of custody. And you can lookup one or more drugs based on any number of criteria, such as lot number or expiration date. What was once a static and constrained data carrier is now an adaptable and limitless dataset.

Simple Integration

One of the reasons the barcode has fared so well is that it can be read by many systems and applications, so integrating it into appropriate workflows and solutions can be a big win. With the UnitVisID RFID tags and the Registry, we aim to make integration as simple as possible in two ways.

  • All UnitVisID RFID tags use standard UHF RFID tags. They follow GS1’s EPC UHF Gen2 Air Interface Protocol and are compatible with the marketing moniker of RAIN. There are many RFID readers and antennas on the market that are compatible with these tags, so finding one to incorporate into your solution is quite manageable.
  • The Registry is accessible via API calls over the internet and any downstream application can look up a drug for free. Software developers can make simple programmatic calls to the Registry server to look up one or more drugs by their serial numbers and get back a wealth of attribute and event data for each drug.

This easy and modern approach to software development and systems integration enables software developers, hospital tech and automation vendors, and even homegrown hospital solutions to integrate with UnitVisID quickly and easily.

Hospitals spend too much time and too many IT resources, integrating systems through custom, homegrown solutions. With UnitVisID tagged medications and access to the Registry, your UnitVisID-compatible systems are already integrated.