2D Barcodes Aim to Prevent Falsified Medicines

The Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD)

Falsified medication has continued to be a massive and still growing problem in the European Union as counterfeiters  find more sophisticated methods to contaminate the medicine supply chain causing a serious threat to patients’ safety and health.

To fight this major problem, the EU has introduced the Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD) which aims to prevent falsified drugs entering the supply chain by using 2D barcodes on medicine packaging. This means that all NHS and other healthcare sites throughout the UK  that dispense drugs will have to install an identification system to scan the 2D barcodes by 2018.

The FMD will require medicines to be uniquely serialised and their authenticity verified before being dispensed to the patient. This will be done by scanning a 2D barcode on the packaging, which is consequently checked against a database to guarantee they are genuine and safe.

The 2D barcodes will also include a product number, batch number and expiry date. This will enable pharmacists to identify counterfeit drugs, ensure they are informed of genuine batch recalls and prevent out of date medicines from being dispensed.

The introduction of this Directive has generated the need for investment in technology to support the reading of 2D barcodes in all pharmacies and hospitals, as well as through the supply chain.

Local pharmacies will most likely be able to integrate new software into the current patient medication record system; however, the larger implication for local pharmacies will be the cost of the scanners that will be required to authenticate the medicines.

Larger pharmaceutical chains will no longer be able to dispense centrally, as this can lead to tampering and falsifying during shipment. All dispensing will have to be done locally.

The biggest challenge is most likely to be in hospitals, as dispensing in hospitals is far more complicated an issue. There will be many different systems requiring different sorts of software packages, to assist the variety of ways that medicines are dispensed in different departments throughout hospitals.

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Advantages of Barcoding

Barcodes Improve Operational Efficiency

inventory software databaseKeeping manual logs can be tedious, time consuming and inaccurate. Barcodes allow faster and much more precise recording of data, work in progress can move quickly and be tracked precisely. Much time can be spent tracking down the location or status of equipment, or anything that moves within a company sometimes over many sites. Barcodes allow you to keep better track consequently saving time and money and allowing quicker response to changes and enquiries.

Barcodes Save Time

Depending on the task involved, time saving can be meaningful. Often the most significant examples can be found by taking an inventory. A possible example of this could be a team of 25 working over a weekend to take a stock inventory manually, compared to a team of 4 with reduced time to just 5 hours working with barcodes. Take a standard day-to-day operation where  time is saved and productivity is improved because of the use of barcodes. Booking in a shipment of 10 boxes will take approximately 2 minutes plus to write down shipment codes and serial numbers, compared to around 10 to 20 seconds to scan the barcodes. This can be a huge saving in a busy environment.advantages of barcodes

Barcodes Reduce Errors

Errors in entering data can be very costly and cause serious issues for a business such as higher transport costs, unhappy clients, and down time spent sorting out problems that have been caused. The typical error rate for human data entry is 10 per 1000 characters. Barcode scanners are much more accurate; the error rate can be as good as 1 error in 70 million characters when using laser reader technology.

Barcodes Cut Costs

In short, barcodes are able to reduce costs when used to solve local audit issues or integrated into large worldwide information systems when imported into suitable software, which in most cases can be customised to suit particular requirements.

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The Invention of the Barcode

In 1948, Bernard Silver over heard a conversation between the Dean of Engineering and a super market executive asking if Drexel Institute could work out how to capture product information at the retail stores checkout. The Dean was not interested in the project, however, this sparked some interest in Bernard Silver’s mind. Bernard mentioned the overheard conversation to Joseph Woodland, another lecturer at Drexel.
Morse CodeThey both worked together on the idea for a while and Woodland decided that the project was definitely a possibility. Woodland, having left Drexel and moved to Florida, still pondered  the idea. Whilst on a Florida beach he compared the problem to Morse Code and started to draw dots and dashes in the sand. He then pulled downwards with his fingers in the sand producing thin lines from the dots.

From the image in the sand, he came up with the idea of a 2 dimensional linear Morse code and discussed the idea with Bernard Silver. They applied for a patent in 1949 which was granted in 1952. Woodland had joined IBM in 1952 and both Woodland and Silver had hoped that IBM would be interested in developing the technology, however IBM did not consider the project to be financially viable and eventually the pair sold the patent on in 1952 for $15,000. The patent was sold on again to RCA Corporation where attempts to develop the technology for commercial use were made. In 1969 RCA approached the National Association of Food Chains and between them they formed the U.S. Supermarket Ad Hoc Committee for the Uniform Grocery Product Code. It was then in 1971 that RCA’s competition IBM became involved, they moved Woodland to North Carolina where he helped to develop the Universal Product Code know as UPC barcode.UPC A barcode

In June 1974, the first item to be scanned was a packet of Wrigley’s chewing gum at a supermarket in Ohio.

Today around 5 billion products are scanned per day all thank to a few lines in the sand!

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1D versus 2D Barcodes

You may wonder which barcodes are best, 1D or 2D? It is not which is best, but which is best for the required application.

Bar codes are similar to a font as they display information in a format that can be read electronically. (often alongside a human readable) They are very often used in connection with information held within a database. With the correct software, scanning a bar code of an item number can retrieve information about that item or product such as description, quantity and location.

A 1D barcode itself simply represents the item code in the form of any alphanumeric symbols. The more information placed in a 1D barcode the longer the barcode becomes making them very impractical for a large amount of information.

1D barcode

1D Barcode

We are now seeing more use of 2-dimensional barcodes that can be used to contain multiple pieces of information in a minimal space. This a great scenario, however how does the ability to fit vast amount of information in a barcode make it easier to track inventory?

2D barcode

2D barcode

A 2D bar code can be used to encode data such as a serial number or item and location details for tracking. The information within the barcode can be captured in a single scan and with the correct software can populate a database saving a vast amount of input time and reducing the chance of input error. A simple example is where a label with a single barcode includes the Item, Package Quantity, and Unit of Measure.  When the item is scanned, the data will automatically populate the corresponding field set in the database. The same can be applied to many applications that are using multiple barcodes on a single label or several labels representing the data. 2D barcode information is represented in a single bar code on a single label.

The compact size and the ability to put multiple fields into a single barcode are the FANTASTIC benefits of 2D technology. A 2D bar code can be read in any direction and can be read even with a mobile phone. In fact a 2D imager will normally allow users to capture both 1D and 2D barcodes at any angle.

The specific application being read by the scanner must be considered. If a product has several 1D barcodes that are placed close to each other (such as on the back of a cell phone or on a circuit board), a 2D scanner might have a tougher time reading the barcodes. Because the imaging scanner captures the entire image of the article to be identified, there is less accuracy than aligning the single red laser on the intended bar code.

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