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Cracks in the Pharmaceutical Supply Chain

Cracks in the Pharmaceutical Supply Chain

Faced with a rising tide of counterfeit and mispriced drugs, pharmaceutical companies are turning to technologies such as RFID to better track medications through a convoluted supply chain

SIDEBAR: Admitting RFID Into the Hospital

A growing number of hospitals are using active RFID tags to keep track of expensive equipment and reduce waiting times for outpatient surgeries and procedures

In the past, doctors and nurses at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston often had trouble finding crucial cardiac equipment needed for emergency surgeries and other treatments. These pieces of equipment are large and expensive, ranging from $US1600 for an EKG monitoring platform to $US4500 for a cardiac assist device called a "pacer".

"When these devices are misplaced there's a delay in care," says Michael Fraai, the hospital's director of biomedical engineering. And when such valuable equipment disappears altogether, the hospital loses money.

To solve this problem, Fraai helped implement a radio frequency identification (RFID) system that tracks the devices in real-time. Starting in 2004, the hospital tagged pacers and telemetry transmitters with active RFID chips from Radians. The tag sends a signal to a receiver that links to the hospital's IS network. Using a Web-based application, doctors and nurses can log on to see where the equipment is located.

So far, the hospital has cut losses of certain cardiac devices by more than half. "Overall, we've saved money," Fraai says. "We've been able to cut inventory shrinkage substantially."

Brigham and Women's isn't alone. According to a recent study by the Spyglass Consulting Group, 10 percent of the 100 health-care organizations surveyed are using RFID to track equipment, and more than half said they would implement the technology this year. Still other hospitals are adopting RFID to track the location of doctors and patients and more efficiently schedule procedures in busy operating rooms.

Fraai says the technology still has room to mature. He'd like to see more intelligence built into his system so that if a device is approaching a door, an alarm would sound. Still, he's seeing a lot of enthusiasm from others in the hospital. "We're getting requests all the time to put RFID in different surgical areas and all around the hospital."

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