FDA urged to promote hospital RFID

Future lies in unit-dose packaging

InfoLogix CEO David Guilan says FDA should be involved in encouraging hospitals to adopt barcode and radio frequency identification (RFID) solutions to help prevent medication mix-ups such as occurred with actor Dennis Quaid's children at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. Quaid's twin newborns received 1,000 times the usual dose of heparin.

Guilan tells Drug Formulary Review that widespread adoption of the new technology will come through standardization and that FDA is needed to help pull that together. "We're very used to seeing and using UPC codes in grocery stores now," Guilan says. "But we're not seeing that yet in medical care."

According to Guilan, part of the problem is that drug companies ship their products in bulk and they then have to be repackaged into unit doses to be dispensed. The bulk bottle might be bar-coded, but each individual pill isn't, creating an opportunity for mistakes when pills are repackaged.

"The future lies in shipping products using blister-pack technology so that hospitals will not have to repack medications," he says. "And using RFID technology, a lot more information can be put on each package, right down to the temperature where the drugs are stored."

He says changes definitely are coming and that the Quaid case may push the issue over the top, although the technology still needs to mature a bit.

"We know there are 200,000 mistakes a year that are related to a patient's death," he says. "And yet only 20% of the hospitals are using bar-coding."

Guilan notes that RFID is a bit expensive today, but says it used to be thought that bar-coding was too expensive to pursue. Ultimately, he says, the question is, "How do you put a price on life?"

He notes that it probably costs hospitals as much to repackage drugs they receive in bulk as it would to change the technology. And he says he believes hospitals would be willing to pay more for drugs that would be delivered from the manufacturer in unit-dose packages.

"I expect we'll see this initiative in place in the next 24 months," Guilan tells Drug Formulary Review.

InfoLogix provides technology and RFID-based intelligence solutions to enable the mobile enterprise. The company says it uses the industry's most advanced technologies to increase the efficiency, accuracy, and transparency of complex business and clinical processes for the health care industry and the commercial marketplace.

[Editor's note: More information is available on-line at: www.infologixsys.com.]