RFID-Enabled Automation in Pharmaceuticals: A Crucial Role for Hospitals

Automation, particularly radio frequency identification (RFID)-enabled automation, is steadily gaining prominence in the pharmaceutical industry. Hospitals, serving as both the end user and the advocate for patient safety, play a central role in developing and adopting standards for RFID technology, which is critical to harnessing its full potential.

A Brief History of RFID in Inventory Management

RFID technology has existed since the early 1970s, but its massive adoption in retail inventory management occurred only in the past two decades. However, its journey has been marked by ups and downs. In 2003, Walmart attempted to enhance supply chain visibility by mandating its largest suppliers to implement RFID tagging of pallets and cases. Initially, the results were disappointing due to expensive and unreliable RFID tags, leading to ineffective data collection. Nevertheless, this experiment became a pivotal learning experience, refining RFID technology’s applications.

Identifying RFID’s True Potential

Following the initial setbacks, Walmart, and other retailers, such as Dillard’s, Bloomingdale’s, Target, and Macy’s, recognized that the lack of visibility was not in the warehouse but in the brick-and-mortar storefronts. Introducing individually packaged products with RFID tags brought forth different technical requirements, signaling the importance of aligning the use-case with the technology’s capabilities.

Overcoming Challenges with Standards

Similar challenges are encountered in the healthcare sector when implementing RFID in hospitals. To avoid repeating past mistakes and delaying RFID adoption, hospital-centered RFID organizations are actively involved in shaping RFID standards. Quality management stands as the most fundamental standard in RFID tag manufacturing. The minuscule size of RFID chips and antennas makes even minor variations in manufacturing quality detrimental to the tag’s usability. The ARC RFID Lab at Auburn University is renowned for certifying quality and performance in the RFID industry.

Developing Hospital-Centric Standards

Collaboration between ARC and RFID solutions providers, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and RFID tag manufacturers has led to the formulation of Specification S—a widely used performance standard for RFID-enabled medications. Specification S specifically caters to hospital environments, ensuring RFID tags perform reliably in challenging conditions, such as densely populated kits and trays. The focus on real-life hospital scenarios in developing standards is essential to enhance reliability in restocking medications.

Embracing the Future of Pharmacy Operations

The implementation of RFID automation represents the future of pharmacy operations. Hospitals must grasp this technology to advocate for their interests and the welfare of their patients. By actively participating in the development of RFID standards and aligning technology with specific use cases, hospitals can ensure the safe and effective integration of RFID-enabled automation in the pharmaceutical industry.

Hospitals and healthcare organizations are a crucial part of the UnitVisID Alliance, and membership is complimentary. Learn more about the benefits of membership here.

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