The Healthcare Hub

Seeing is Believing: Testing an Industry Solution to Pharmaceutical Track and Trace

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

I’ve always been a big online shopper, and now that I can receive automatic text messages when my orders are shipped and delivered, I must admit, I do most of my gift selecting and giving on (admittedly, late at night, while on the road for business). This is not meant to be a commercial for Amazon, but rather to point out how accustomed I have become to being notified re: the status of my orders. I don’t have to go looking for the little piece of paper with the tracking number or remember which carrier I used. Amazon manages that information for me and sends me text alerts when the product has been shipped and when it has been delivered. There is great comfort in knowing that a package has made it in time for a niece’s or nephew’s birthday. 

So, what does this have to do with the healthcare supply chain? What got me thinking was a comment made yesterday at the GS1 Healthcare US Workgroup Forum about the value of this kind of visibility – visibility that I have begun to take for granted – in securing the pharmaceutical supply chain.

Steven Lewis, a pharmacist with the Veteran’s Health Administration Consolidated Mail Outpatient Pharmacy (CMOP), was presenting the results of a pilot conducted with Abbott, McKesson and GHX to test the use of a central data repository to authenticate pharmaceutical products as they flow through the supply chain, from the manufacturer, to the distributor, to the customer, and eventually to the dispensing pharmacy. Lewis commented that it was a tremendous advantage to be notified that products had been shipped before they showed up at the CMOP’s Mid-South facility in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. 

It’s important to know, CMOP is no novice when it comes to ordering, receiving, and processing data around pharmaceutical products. The Mid-South receives approximately $1.5 million worth of pharmaceuticals on a daily basis, which equates to around 900 lines of product. And to be clear, for patient safety, the real value is not as much about knowing that the product is on its way, as it is about knowing the serialized identifiers (GS1’s sGTINs) for the products that have been shipped. By receiving that information in advance, CMOP was able to determine that it was the actual Humira pens that McKesson received from Abbott and shipped to CMOP, and not a counterfeit shipment. Better yet, by viewing data stored in the prototype central repository built by GHX, the CMOP could see where the products have been since leaving the manufacturer’s (Abbott’s) facility in Illinois. 

The pilot also successfully tested what would happen if the product is recalled before arriving at CMOP. Without the VA’s knowledge, the system generated a notice that the product was recalled between the time it was shipped by McKesson and when it arrived at the CMOP facility. When CMOP went to receive the product, the GHX system generated the recall notification. The good news is that the information was received by CMOP before the product would otherwise have been dispensed to patients. The even better news in this case is that it was just a mock recall, and the product could actually be used, safely.

Technology development and system integration were certainly instrumental to the success of this pilot and development of the central repository, but to me the bigger success is that the various trading partners were able to come together to test the use of shared technology and processes. As I have mentioned before, healthcare needs to change, and change fast. We cannot afford to have singular successes that cannot be easily scaled for the rest of healthcare. For the past several years, GHX has been working with a group of its equity owners to come up with an industry solution to pending regulatory and patient safety requirements in the pharmaceutical healthcare supply chain. And as one of the presenters said in summarizing the results of the pilot, “We proved, it can be done.” 

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Karen Conway

Vice President, Healthcare Value