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Smarter packaging options in healthcare

Smarter packaging options in healthcare
Vials shown above rely on RFID (left) or NFC technology (right).

July 3 was a banner day for smarter pharmaceutical and medical packaging when two patents were published that leverage technology to improve patient compliance and consumer safety. One was for a Smart Label container and the other for an RFID-enabled prescription bottle or vial.

The first one (on the left in the above image) for a metal-crimped vial equipped with radio-frequency identification is assigned to MEPS Real-Time, Inc., Carlsbad, CA. That comes as no surprise: the company offers a suite of “Intelliguard” RFID systems for medications and pharmaceuticals. In May, it introduced a RFID Smart Tag that’s 65% smaller than any other RFID tags available to healthcare and can be used for anesthesia kits, trays and drawers.

According to the patent, the use of RFID enables the vial to be identified and tracked throughout the supply chain. But wireless RFID is just the beginning before things get even more interesting: The RFID inlay’s antenna is coupled with the metallic crimp to increase the effective area of the RFID antenna and therefore the effectiveness of the signal. Using packaging or a standard packaging component seamlessly like this to increase the robustness of RFID is ingenious.

Additionally, a second antenna element is mounted to the side of the vial in a way that does not obscure any of the information on the label to further increase the tag’s readability.

The invention is claimed as an improvement over “flag tag” RFID applications.

Of course, extracting RFID data requires portals/readers/interrogators and other associated infrastructure, but this highly enabled, robust RFID vial design supports making a business case in justifying the technology for these small, yet critical packaged products.

You can read the filing at Fresh Patents.

NFC prescription Smart Label

The second published patent filing (shown in the right half of the image at the top) from July 3 centers on a different wireless communication protocol as an alternate tactic to achieve the same goal of increasing compliance and safety. Assigned to several individuals, this invention relies on Near-Field Communication (NFC), which is commonly used to make the “tap-tap” access for smartphones and is a fast-growing market that’s expected to reach $16.25 billion by 2022 at an CAGR of 8.8%, according to a new study. In fact, that’s an example of how the information on the smart label can be read.

In summary, the prescription smart label cap system can remind patients of prescription use times and dosages, monitors the contents and can gather, record, store and transmit patient use data. It can be powered by a battery or, in another example, powered by light using a flexible solar cell. The filing also proposes mobile applications enabled by the NFC and Wi-Fi Direct.  A mobile-device-readable Quick Response Code is also mentioned.

The system reminds patients to take their medication and allows doctors to remotely monitor the proper use of the medicines that were prescribed.

The Overall Cost of Ownership for such an arrangement can be minimized in that the system can be reusable—a Recyclable Prescription Smart Label—wherein the data is erased and a new prescription is then created.

For more information, see the patent filing here.

How important are these kinds of developments? Daphne Allen, editor of Pharmaceutical and Medical Packaging News, says "Patient noncompliance with prescribed drug regimens as well as medication errors is an ongoing problem in healthcare. I have long believed that packaging and identification technologies offer potential solutions to reduce the impact of these problems." 

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