Why “Quality” Matters for RFID-Tagged Pharmaceutical Drug Products

Most pharmaceutical manufacturers and compounders don’t have a lot of experience adding RFID tags to their unit-of-use products. Sure, there have been a few unsuccessful pushes over the last 20 years, but by and large, this is not a strong competency in the industry.

When pharmaceutical manufacturers start evaluating an RFID tagging initiative, one of the first mistakes they often make is seeking out the cheapest RFID tags they can find. They fall into the common trap of thinking about COGS, but far too often, this one-dimensional approach comes at the expense of delivering value and ROI to their hospital customers.

RFID is a probabilistic technology. The performance of RFID tags and readers can vary greatly depending on a number of technical and environmental factors. For example, the presence of metal can block or reflect the radio waves; and, the presence of liquids can weaken or attenuate the radio signal, causing it to be unreadable. So, when designing RFID systems, careful thought must be given to these factors.

Component Selection

As you might expect, cheap RFID tags, and outdated RFID inlays with old ICs, are often not up to the task. But even high quality, modern chips may not be enough.

For pharmaceutical manufacturers, the considerations around inlay selection and sourcing are similar to those for active pharmaceutical ingredient (API). The quality and purity of the ingredients, the consistency with which you can achieve those levels, and the interplay between ingredients and the manufacturing process, all are important factors contributing to a consistently high-quality product.

For RFID inlays, it’s important to use modern inlays with the latest generation ICs. RFID tagged unit doses present a challenging read scenario because of liquids, metals, tag density, and a variety of materials and substrates. Newer ICs have higher read sensitivities thanks to a host of technical features, and that improved sensitivity can make the difference between a great end-user experience for the hospital vs. a tag that simply doesn’t work.

Manufacturing Process

Adhesive selection, cure times, wind tightness for rolls, IC-antenna attach processes, and QA checks are just a few examples of sub-processes that affect the quality of the final RFID inlay rolling off the line. Since manufacturing processes vary from one inlay manufacturer to another, it’s important to make sure the manufacturer has a quality management system (QMS) in place that covers specs, materials, processes, and QA steps. All of this comes at a cost, of course, but it ensures that tag quality is reliable and that these costs aren’t simply shifted downstream to end-users in the form of useless dead tags.

Watch Out

There are plenty of service providers who will try to sell you on low priced inlays and tags. One tactic they’ll use it to try to convince you that performance is sufficient based on “scientific” testing alone. They may show you results from an example tag in an anechoic chamber that performs really well. But this narrow approach fails to prove that the tagged item will perform well in real-world use cases that are commonplace in US hospitals today. In chamber testing, you might just have a single item in free air, but in many real-world hospital workflows, that item will be intermingled with other items and objects in the environment that dramatically affect performance.

Independent Testing and Certification

Just as pharmaceutical manufacturers go to great lengths to ensure standards and spec are met every time, so too must inlay manufacturers and label converters for these RFID tagged medications. And, just as independent parties, such as the FDA, audit, and hold accountable the pharmaceutical industry, we should insist that inlay manufacturers and label converters are monitored in a similar way.

DoseID Quality Certifications

Thoughtful system design must take into account the interplay of tags, readers, and other environmental factors in which they’ll operate. DoseID can help with those design processes by sharing specs, best practices, and expertise through a network of stakeholders.

DoseID has also engaged with the ARC Lab, part of the University of Auburn’s RFID Lab, to perform independent testing and certification. They will evaluate the quality and performance of any tag, tagged product, and DoseID compatible system on the market. The “quality” portion of ARC Lab’s audit ensures that manufacturers have a sufficient quality management system (QMS) in place and can demonstrate consistent adherence.

Quality matters for RFID tagged drug products. And DoseID, along with independent testing from the ARC Lab, exists to ensure that it’s achieved, thereby delivering high-quality products and experiences to hospitals.