RFID in Pharmaceutical Industry

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology is an identification system that uses the radio frequency waves for tracking purposes and transmission of information regarding objects and individuals. There is no need of manual contact with a reader nor is there a necessity to be in the line of sight of the reader in RFID. RFID enables the user to store information which can be further relayed .

Small RFID chips can hold up all the relevant information regarding the pharmaceutical product like lot numbers and temperature history. With the counterfeiting of Pharmaceutical products being a major problem, RFID promises to be an innovative option.
Radio Frequency is also used for tracking and gathering information about various products. They also help in categorizing products by verifying their identity.

Benefits of RFID in Pharma industry

The important characteristics and benefits of RFID which have made it an integral part of the Pharmaceutical industry are –

  • Increase in Supply chain efficiency : RFID tags are used to increase supply chain efficiency, resulting in purchase savings and lower costs.
  • Easy adoption and flexible usage : RFID systems can be easily installed by the pharmaceutical provider and used flexibly by tagging all the required objects. The installation and working of the systems are easy and effective.
  • Reduce errors by proper information storage : The errors in assigning medication and treating the patients are reduced due the use of RFID. RFIDs can track the required medicines. RFID databases can help in assigning the required medicine to the concerned patient.
  • Increase patient monitoring and safety : The safety and security of patients are increased considerably by RFID. With RFID in Pharmaeach patient being tracked by RFID, the security is increased multifold times.
  • Improve staff, patient and asset workflow : There is an improvement in the workflow of the pharmaceutical staffs and patients with the RFID. RFID optimizes the use of staffs and the comfort of patients. For example, track the amount of time that each patient awaits radiation treatment, and to verify that the correct equipment is being employed. This data can help the pharmaceutical provider in analyzing as to what the service provided requires for better outputs.
  • Decrease in Labor Requirements : RFID being an automated technology leads in a major decrease in manual work requirements. RFID helps in making major activities automated and therefore efficient.
  • Enhance efficiencies of existing resources : RFIDs enhance efficiency of various pharmaceutical processes. There is low error generation from the technology due to its easy usage. Low error generation leads to cost savings for the pharmaceutical. RFID gathers and analyzes data regarding staff members' movements, in order to ascertain how the unit could be more efficient.

RFID Limitations for Pharma industry

Major limitation of RFID has been the cost of using the system and also the lacking of any standardized RFID. Pharmaceutical being a highly critical area needs to have highly efficient systems. This creates a lot of resistance to changing of systems.  The following are major Limitations and the reasons behind such limitations:

  • Cost related Issues : The implementation cost for RFID in pharmaceutical is expensive. RFID tags in pharmaceuticals are needed in a large scale. The readers have to be stationed in various areas for proper tracking as the production is phased. The cost issue is primarily due to the low demand problem. This problem arises due to low implementation of RFID. The numbers of RFIDs being used today are not substantial enough for the technology to be made cheap. With lesser use from major pharmaceutical companies and high cost of RFID there is hesitation in implementing it. The cost of Active Tags generally costs 25$ and above. Low and High Frequency tags cost a little higher. Passive Tags costs as low as 15 cents in which only a bar code is printed. The item level implementation of RFID is expensive for tracking raw drugs and storing information. Also the changing standards made the Industry more skeptical.
  • Standardization and Compatibility Issues : RFID still being a developing technology has numerous types RFID systems, readers and tags. There is a need of having a standardized system for each and every application. Currently, two major groups of standards are competing worldwide: one is EPC of Auto-ID Center which is supported by UCC (Uniform Code Council) and EAN (European Article Numbering) and the other is the ISO-specified (International Standards Organization) set of standards. Though the application in which RFID is used determines the appropriate RFID system, the thin standards can cause discrepancy in protocols of communication and the format as well as amount of information stored in the tag. 
  • Tampering concerns : A shortcoming of RFID today is the fact that the RFID tags can be hacked and altered. Tags of RFID are mostly indifferent to any reader.  Therefore there is a slightest possibility of tampering of the information that the tag stores. This can be hazardous for industries like Pharmaceuticals where there is a profound sensitivity towards the object.
  • Technical Issues related to RFID : There is also a possibility of the RFID readers being unable to read the tags correctly. This can be due to problems like collision of tags, setting of multiple readers, or persistence of tags no longer of use. This may lead to inefficiency in data produced by the reader.

How are Pharma Companies using RFID Today : Case Studies

Purdue Pharmaceuticals

Purdue Pharmaceuticals were among the first pharmaceutical companies to adopt RFID as a technology to combat counterfeiting. Through RFID the company wanted to serialize and track and trace its products.

Purdue first started using RFID in 2004 largely in response to Wal-Mart’s call for its suppliers to use RFID tags. In the following year Purdue produced the very first batch of RFID tagged Oxycontin. Oxycontin was the major product of Purdue Pharmaceuticals. The usage of RFID has only increased with time. In 2007 Purdue crossed the 2 million mark in RFID tagged oxycontin.
The problems faced by Purdue were mostly related with the number of tags and the durability of tags. The tags went through various packaging methods and had to be sustainable.

Though Purdue were open to both Bar Coding and RFID, the latter technology proved to be the more effective one. RFID has successfully combated counterfeiting to a large extent for Purdue. The pharmaceutical company next wants to use it on the item level to make the processing even more efficient.


Pfizer, the makers of Viagra, were majorly hit by counterfeiting and adulterated selling of medicines. They fought back by implementing RFID in 2005. Through RFID it wanted to control the counterfeiting through trace and track system.
In as early as 2006, Pfizer called for use of RFID in all its bottles rather than a few in USA. Although only a single wholesaler was ready to begin tagging, the trend has been positive. Pfizer continues to reap the benefits of RFID. With counterfeiting reducing considerably through RFID, RFID has also led to systemization.

Pfizer now wants to use RFID in the future on a wider extent. It also urged pharmacies and wholesalers to use RFID as well.

Future of RFID in Pharmaceutical industry

RFID is a tremendous future aspect for pharmaceutical industry. RFID being useful in various aspects of tracking and information storage provide a wider hope of efficient and safe working.RFID in pharma

RFID market in pharmaceuticals and health care providers is set to rise fast from $90 million in 2006 to $2.1 billion in 2016. . In 2011 the value of RFID’s total Market was $5.84 billion. This rapid increase in the market share for RFID in pharmaceuticals can be attributed to the fact that RFID limits malpractices like counterfeiting and improves the security of operation. With time the process of counterfeiting has only increased and the limitations like cost and standardization has decreased considerably.

Summing it all up …

RFID is viewed as a technology in its early stages with lots of untapped potential. RFID provides amazing applications for the pharmaceutical industry and it should be no surprise to see RFID evolve with a rapid pace. Even though numerous limitations still delay the widespread use of RFID, it can be already seen that various institutions will benefit from RFID.

RFID sensors are also used to monitor the temperatures of refrigerators, blood coolers, blanket warmers and other heating or cooling appliances. Temperature variations can damage the various medications and drugs. It also reduces manual labor costs. While it would have been earlier the staff that would check the temperatures and manufacturing information of each and every device, the whole process is automated through RFID.

RFID technology is also used for supply chain management. It has been mainly applied to case and pallet level tracking.
Major Pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer (makers of Viagra) and Purdue Pharma (makers of Oxycontin) were the first ones to implement RFID for countering fabricating of medicines.  Major RFID system providers for pharmaceutical companies include NXS (founded by Philips) and Tagsys. Other Pharmaceutical companies like  Bayer and Workhardt have also started using the RFID system with scores of small and medium level companies coming in the fray. RFID technology does promise a lot for all the pharmaceutical companies.