04 April 2005 | Cara Whitehouse
The use of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology received a boost this month when work began on a system to improve drug safety.
The move to prevent pharmacists dispensing counterfeit or withdrawn medicines follows a three-month trial in which staff at 50 UK pharmacies said the RFID tags on medicine cartons were more effective than existing systems.
In many cases, the technology alerted them to products that were unfit for sale.
According to Ian Rhodes, chief executive of Aegate, a company set up by PA Consulting to tackle pharmaceutical fraud: "The technology provides a way to check that the product eventually sold is as the manufacturer intended when it left the factory."
He hopes the technology will help prevent 400 legal claims a year against local chemists over dispensing errors, he added.
However, he said it could be more than a year before a system is available for the UK's 12,000 community pharmacies.
During the trial, six pharmaceutical manufacturers tagged more than 20,000 individual products with a unique identifying RFID or barcode label.
The pharmacists checked around 180,000 products against scanners, which flashed up warnings when unauthorised products were detected.
The system can detect counterfeit or illegal products by comparing product details with those held on the supplier's database.
Similarly, the tags might register, but the pharmacist will be warned if the product has been withdrawn or is past its expiry date and should not be dispensed.