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Right place, right time: Revolutionising the pharmaceutical supply chain with seamless medication management

By Paul Elizondo, Chief Innovation Officer at IntelliGuard



Today’s healthcare industry faces several pervasive pharmaceutical management problems, including drug shortages, the diversion of drugs from their intended uses, poor facility management of drugs, and drug counterfeiting.

While these are complex and dynamic problems, a common denominator to be addressed is the lack of insight into the location of drugs throughout their lifecycle.

Seamless, low-touch medication management, like that made possible with radio frequency identification (RFID) systems, can provide tracking and tracing capabilities that help mitigate some of the problems facing the global pharmaceutical industry.

The Traceability Problem

RFID tagging and tracking systems are used in various industries to maintain visibility over inventory throughout its lifecycle.

One prominent example is retailers’ use of RFID technology to tag merchandise, including Walmart, Amazon, and a variety of apparel retailers.

These tags allow companies to track individual pieces of merchandise to counteract theft and inventory management challenges.

Much like retail, the healthcare industry is worth trillions of US dollars and would benefit from the ability to track drugs within larger systems.

However, the global pharmaceutical industry appears uniquely behind in implementing tracking systems.

Drug diversion––the theft or illegal distribution of prescription drugs––is a massive concern within medical facilities.

The issue is further exacerbated by the opioid crisis, the prevalence of substance abuse among medical practitioners, and a dependency on manual, human monitoring of drug inventories.

Drug diversion, however, isn’t the only medication management problem.

Paul Elizondo

Drug counterfeiting is also on the rise, putting the onus on pharmacists to check for medications that may appear tampered with, mishandled, or expired.

Amid ongoing drug shortages, outdated, manual medication management systems make it harder for pharmacists to meet their facility’s needs.

This directly impacts patients and their ability to access potentially life-saving medications.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) governs many of the medication management regulations within the U.S.

Within this law, the US FDA has set requirements for electronic, interoperable systems to be implemented by November 2024 to identify and trace certain controlled prescription drugs as they are distributed throughout the United States.

The management of medicines within hospitals and medical facilities, however, is an undertaking that requires a closer eye on medications.

Seamless Tracking for More Efficient Medication Management

It’s crucial for the safety of patients to ensure drugs are at the right place at the right time.

This spans multiple disciplines throughout the care pipeline, including anesthesia, pharmacy, primary and specialty care, and nursing.

Current systems rely on barcoding and manual counting, draining precious time and resources simply to maintain an accurate inventory.

This represents an opportunity for medication management systems that utilize low-touch, RFID technology and cloud-based management software to revolutionise the full medication supply chain.

Today’s RFID technology uses small tags or smart labels to store digital data, such as unique identification information.

Unlike traditional barcode technology, which requires a direct line-of-sight between the scanner and the barcode to transmit information, RFID technology uses radio waves.

This means data can be transmitted without the scanner coming into direct contact with, or even in sight of, the tag.

Crucially, it also allows for bulk identification of medications––for example, an entire tray of medicines destined for a crash cart.

IntelliGuard’s RFID-based systems, for example, can scan 250 medications in a matter of seconds with 99 per cent accuracy.

These systems enable healthcare facilities to keep a closer eye on the location and status of medications with less manual work.

As RFID and data management technologies continue to improve, the implications for the future of these systems are huge.

For example, imagine the potential of a system that allows medications to be tracked at an individual unit level, anywhere in a hospital at any time.

Healthcare facilities would know the exact vial of medication administered to a specific patient, an insight that would prove valuable in the event of an adverse reaction or product recall.

During drug shortages, this knowledge would make it easier to monitor limited inventories and move drugs to the facilities where they are needed most.

When medications get moved to different facilities or expire, the system could take this into account to tell pharmacists and facility managers accurate product counts for reordering purposes.

And as RFID technology improves and becomes more widely implemented throughout the healthcare supply chain, seamless medication management can help solve some of the problems plaguing the pharmaceutical industry, from drug diversion to counterfeiting to supply.

Next Steps for RFID Medication Management Systems

The technology that facilities use to ensure drugs are at the right place at the right time is crucial.

The best tools for addressing managing medication are those tailored to the complexities of the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries.

Ongoing innovation and development are underway to incorporate RFID tagging within the healthcare landscape, including encouraging drug manufacturers to implement tagging during production and setting industry standards for RFID tags.

Success in this area, such as Fresenius Khabi’s +RFID system, indicates that the future of medication management might be closer than it appears.

Additionally, continual refinements to the technology to account for the numerous medication and supply packaging types, such as a transfusion blood bag, will enable further widespread adoption.

RFID-based technology systems backed by cloud-based management software will be a powerful tool that overcomes the same limitations as other technology.


The future of healthcare is one in which medications are tracked through their lifecycle, from manufacturer to patient.

Tracking and tracing medications will allow closer insight into the movement of drugs within healthcare systems and potentially improve efforts to mitigate problems, such as drug diversion and counterfeiting.

With the integration of touchless medication management, this level of tracking and its associated benefits can become a reality.

Author Bio:

Paul Elizondo is the Chief Innovation Officer at IntelliGuard, one of the leaders in RFID-based medication tracking, tracing, and inventory management systems.

With decades of experience across multiple applications of RFID technology, he currently focuses on the development and optimisation of all RFID-enabled systems within the IntelliGuard product line.

Paul also chairs the RAIN Alliance Healthcare committee, working to promote the use and facilitate the implementation of RAIN RFID.

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