Every year over three million children under the age of five die of food-related illnesses, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The US National Pharmaceutical Council states that non-compliance with medication causes 125,000 deaths, 11 per cent of hospital admissions and costs $100billion yearly in the US alone.
But how can smart tagging and smart labels be used to combat these problems?
In the two above cases they could be used in a variety of ways:
Smart packing with self-adjusting expiry dates could be used to prevent the consumption of spoiled food and radio tags employed to improve supply chain efficiency.
On food packaging, inks that change colour or reveal words could be used to show the presence of pathogens.
RFID systems are available that prevent contraindicated medicines from being dispensed and smart drug containers that monitor when tablets are taken out of their packaging could also be utilised
Smart tags and packaging are already saving lives, preventing illnesses, and sharply reducing costs in healthcare. They variously involve RFID and sensors reversibly or irreversibly indicating over 20 parameters from specific pathogens to imminent danger of sunburn or correct sterilisation.
RFID will be used in high volumes in the supply chain for track and trace to overcome fatal counterfeiting, product diversion and improve supply chain efficiencies within healthcare. It is estimated that 10% of all drugs are counterfeit, rising to over 30% in third world countries. The pressure on pharmaceuticals to give away drugs in third world countries mean massive grey markets exist where these drugs are sold in developed countries undercutting the pharmaceuticals. It is difficult to even measure the scale of this problem but RFID used for track and trace is by far the most promising technology to address this challenge. In parallel examples, Goldwin Sportswear, Italy, identified and closed a grey market in apparel being made in China and sold in Italy. This was within 12 months of a trial of half a million smart labels, let alone all the other paybacks.
Other than track and trace, smart labels are being used for drug delivery mechanisms. For example, twenty five million chipless RFID tags have already been used to automatically prevent the wrong dose of just one type of anaesthetic being delivered. This was done by AstraZeneca, who did this partly to extend the patent of the drug beyond its expiry. The technology is based on a chipless device and after almost 5 years of global use they have never had a single misread.
Beyond RFID, smart labels on food, vaccines, blood and transplants detect if overheating has taken place, the presence of specific bacteria and viruses and much more besides. Electronic skin patches make the ointment penetrate 16 to 32 times as fast and can administer drugs according to time of day or measured need. RFID, diagnostic labels and skin patches increasingly use similar technology and some now combine some of these functions.
A new unique report by IDTechEx on this topic predicts the smart healthcare packaging market will be 10% of the $86.3bn healthcare packaging market.
For more details read Smart Tagging and Smart Packaging in Healthcare, IDTechEx, 2004.