Recent RFID & Pharma Announcements

We have been heartened by the growing trend of pharmaceutical manufacturers and RFID industry partners announcing tagged drug products, serialization technologies, and quality programs aimed at increasing the use of tagged unit-of-use medications. We’re excited to see new parts of the industry begin to embrace the longstanding customer demand for these value-add products.

DoseID believes that serialized unit-of-use medications, tagged with quality and performant RFID tags, coupled with a central registry, is the best path towards better patient safety, improved inventory management, and more efficient workflows for the pharmacy department and clinicians. And these announcements show that others are taking some steps in that direction.

So, how do these recent announcements stack up? We’ll take a look at what these announcements are — and aren’t — and explain what it all means.

The Roundup

Sep 30, 2021
Fresenius Kabi and Health Care Logistics, Inc. Collaborate on RFID Compatibility

Health Care Logistics’ Stat-Stock, which automates the medication tray replenishment process, can now read the drug data (SGTIN, lot number, and expiration date) that Fresenius Kabi encodes in their +RFID inlay’s EPC and User memory banks.

This adds Stat-Stock to the list of systems that can use Fresenius Kabi’s pre-tagged Glycopyrrolate and Ketorolac syringes and Propofol vials, helping users avoid manual tagging and data entry for these.

Oct 6, 2021
Michigan State University’s Axia Institute Announces the Launch of Axia Lab™ as its RFID Tag Validation Program

Michigan State University is launching a new lab to tackle “some of [the] supply chain’s greatest challenges.” The lab claims to perform Tagged-Item Performance Protocol (TIPP) testing for the pharmaceutical industry and announced Fresenius Kabi as its first customer.

We are still seeking clarification on the choice of grade “S05V” — traditionally reserved for sporting goods inventory — for pharmaceutical products. At this point in time, no TIPP grades or families have been defined for pharmaceutical items.

Dec 17, 2021 Updates: Thanks to Axia for reaching out to us and answering some of the questions we were left with after reading their announcement.

Axia clarified that they are performing tests on tagged medications in accordance with TIPP’s test protocols. But since TIPP’s grading system doesn’t address medications, TIPP grades can’t currently be used with these items.

Reference to the S05V grade was just an example of a TIPP grade. It was not meant to imply that their medication testing is in any way related to “sporting goods,” nor was it meant to imply that they could assign TIPP grades to tagged medications.

Axia believes that there needs to be standards for RFID in healthcare, so they are collaborating with GS1 and others to help advocate for, and recommend, such standards.

Confusion about “sporting goods” aside, we’re happy to see the pronouncement that “RFID-enabled products must exhibit high performance, quality and reliability” and are excited to learn in more detail about the lab’s plans for delivering on that vision.

Oct 12, 2021
AmerisourceBergen Launches Universal RFID-Tagging & Mobile App For Its Acute Care Medication Tray Solution

AmerisourceBergen announced that their “medication tray solution” now supports RAIN tags and has a mobile application.

We’re excited about the development of more point solutions in the market which allow healthcare organizations to drive value from using RFID tags. DoseID and its predecessors use RAIN tags and we’re happy to see others, such as ABC, adopt the same.

Related article: What are RAIN and GS1?

What It All Means

These announcements, set against the current landscape, tell an interesting story about the future of the industry. In particular, the following themes really stood out.

Demand for Pre-tagged Medications — DoseID members have seen the rise in customer demand for pre-tagged medications for at least 7 years. Clearly, other vendors are getting the same message now. This wider adoption also suggests we’re at (or past) an inflection point around value and price. Although RFID is inherently a probabilistic technology, it’s quality and performance capabilities for hospital workflow use cases have surpassed the “sufficiently reliable” threshold and it’s available at an acceptable price point.

RAIN — These announcements reinforce the trend that everyone has coalesced around UHF Gen2 tags and readers (“RAIN tags” and “RAIN readers”) for tagged unit-of-use medications.  While there may be some niche use cases for NFC or HF, or some other healthcare scenarios that don’t involve unit-of-use tagging, the 10-year trend here seems clear and is holding strong.

RFID Quality and Performance — Overall, the quality and performance of today’s tags are good enough that they can now be relied upon for many hospital workflows. At the same time, though, the industry is finally recognizing that you can’t simply pick the cheapest tag, from a fly-by-night manufacturer or converter, and expect it to perform well enough. Interoperable specifications for quality and performance, coupled with independent validation and testing, are needed to ensure a quality experience for end users of these products.

License Plates vs. Hard Drives — This refers to the following competing approaches, commonly used with RFID tagging.

  • The License Plate Model stores a serial number (EPC) on the tag. That serial number points to a database entry containing all the item’s attributes and history.
  • The Hard Drive Model uses “extended memory” tags, stores limited item data directly in the tag’s user memory, and isn’t coupled with a database.

DoseID uses the License Plate Model for a number of reasons. The tags are cheaper, they use more modern silicon (ICs) which equates to higher quality and perform better, and the use of a database allows for unlimited attribute and event data, which can be appended over time, and is protected by access controls, audit trails, and TID authentication.

The Hard Drive Model uses older, less performant, more expensive ICs, and requires the deployment of expensive hardware for manufacturers to encode inline (or near inline) on high speed lines. These “extended memory” tags only provide a few hundreds bits of memory allowing manufacturers to encode a very limited set of unauthenticated drug data. With just one mainstream manufacturer’s products following this model today, it’s clear that this approach remains an outlier compared to the broad catalog of DoseID tagged drugs available in the market.

Resistance to working together — All vendors are welcome to join DoseID. DoseID’s is working towards a world where any given tagged medication is interoperable across technology and automation systems throughout the hospital — regardless of pharmaceutical manufacturer or technology vendor.

What’s Next

We applaud these announcements and see them as steps in the right direction, while being fully aware that these are really just baby steps. We can’t settle for a world without basic interoperability, where every manufacturer and vendor needs to have a proprietary agreement in place for compatibility. We must come together and agree on a baseline of compatibility for the benefit of patients, hospitals, and all of us in the industry who are lucky enough to support them.