South Korea gets behind RFID tagging

rfid tag foldoverSouth Korea is putting its weight behind radiofrequency identification (RFID) of medicines, with local reports saying the government plans to tag around 50 per cent of drugs sold on the market by 2015.

According to the Korea Times, vice minister for knowledge economy Ahn Hyun-Ho described RFID tagging of medicines on a national scale as “a world-first experiment” that would “greatly improve transparency and efficiency in drug retail”.

Korean government officials believe the initiative can save pharmaceutical companies some 1.8 trillion won ($1.6bn) a year in distribution and inventory costs, while boosting drug production to the tune of 910 billion won.

RFID tagging will also better equip the health system to clamp down on drug diversion and prescribing or dispensing errors, authenticate products at pharmacy level, speed up the recall of substandard drugs, and facilitate medical insurance payments to hospitals and clinics.

A further objective is to raise patient awareness by allowing the information stored on the RFID tags to be transmitted to regular mobile phones.

One spur for the initiative, which has been under discussion for some time, is the low-recovery rate – currently around 20 per cent - for substandard medicines in South Korea, the Korea Times notes.

While the extent of drug counterfeiting in South Korea is hard to pin down, the country’s fast-growing pharmaceutical market and proximity to China have made it vulnerable to illicit trade. South Korea is a party to the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which covers medicines among a wide range of goods subject to piracy.

The RFID project is part of a broader push behind information technology in South Korea, with the initial phase focused on promoting convergence between IT and the pharmaceutical industry.

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