Several people I know from the traceability solution provider community like to tout the similarities between the food supply chain and the pharmaceutical supply chain. They see similar track and trace regulation in the futures of both chains. After all, both supply chains are regulated by the same agency (FDA, although food is also regulated by the USDA) and they see them as having similar problems. But I don’t buy all that. My friends see the use of common tools (their products, of course) and I might give them that, but these two problems only seem similar on the surface and so, if track and trace regulation is needed for both, the two regulations ought to have only high-level similarities.
THE FOOD SUPPLY CHAIN
The increasing frequency of the scariest problems in the food supply chain are related to accidents—like unintended contact with surfaces or organic matter that contaminate the food with nasty things like E. coli or salmonella—or food that has spoiled as the result of improper storage somewhere in the supply chain—like refrigerators or freezers that aren’t doing their job. Consumers would benefit from the use of food track and trace in situations like these only when the contamination or spoilage isn’t detected until after the product is split up and distributed down multiple paths. The track and trace system would improve the speed of the recall and the confidence in its completeness.
Generally, food is distributed to retail outlets inside containers that are packed by the manufacturer or processor. I’m not an expert here so those of you who are, please correct me, but I don’t think food distributors normally break down cases and ship individual saleable units to retailers. I think they normally ship full cases, bins and pallets. For this reason, item-level serialization is not critical to end-to-end track and trace. However, container-level serialization-based track and trace would be a major benefit to this supply chain.
There is one more thing about the food supply chain that I think is significant for this discussion. Many of the trading partners at the start of the supply chain are small, independent and technically unsophisticated. Most of the trading partners at the end of the supply chain are just the opposite: large corporations with big IT budgets.
THE PHARMACEUTICAL SUPPLY CHAIN
On the other hand, the scariest problems in the pharmaceutical supply chain Continue reading The Deputized Supply Chain
In April of last year VHA, a nationwide network of community-owned health care systems, published a viewpoint essay on their website called “The Track to Improving Health Care will be Built with IT Standards”. The posting was written by Mike Cummins, Chief Information Officer of VHA, Inc. In it, he draws a great analogy between the widespread adoption of a standard railroad gauge by railroad companies 150 years ago as part of the U.S. Transcontinental Railway (as set in motion by President Abraham Lincoln), and the potential benefits of widespread adoption of health care IT standards. Mike points out that some historians believe that the nationwide adoption of a single railway gauge accelerated the evolution of the greatness of the United States. It’s well worth reading.
I think the problem Mike sees is that there are so many incompatible IT standards in use in the healthcare industry, with different ones in use in different pockets of the industry. There are too many proprietary approaches in use, and too many standards in use in one segment of the industry that are incompatible with similar standards in use in another. In effect, it’s a patchwork, yet each user can claim to be using a standard. This was exactly the case with the railroads 150 years ago as Mike’s analogy implies. Each railroad company, or groups of companies, had their favorite “standard” gauge, but which standard was “the best”…the one worthy of becoming the national standard? I don’t know, but I do know they eventually figured it out and settled on a single gauge for the Transcontinental Railroad and that gauge become the defacto standard. That allowed the country to be connected and, as Mike points out, historians have dawn a direct line from that agreement to economic expansion and eventual greatness.
Mike makes several proposals that I interpret as ways to cut through the patchwork of standards and get the industry to settle, like the railroad companies, on a single standard for some key technologies like Electronic Medical Records (EMR), Health Identification Numbers and Personal Health Records (PHR). He calls for the broad, mandatory adoption of GS1barcodes, Global Location Numbers (GLN), Global Trade Item Numbers (GTIN) and accelerated plans by the FDA to mandate the usage of Unique Device Identification (UDI). He calls for the use of part of the federal economic stimulus money to be used for standards development. Continue reading “Why the rush for GS1 standards?”
Chuck Schramek passed away on January 9 after losing his battle with cancer. See his obituary here. As I understand it, he spent most of his career working in IT at McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a Johnson & Johnson company, eventually serving in the role of Executive Director of Information Architecture for J&J. He spent the last few years of his career as an executive-on-loan to GS1 EPCglobal from J&J. In that capacity he filled the role of facilitator of work groups related to pharmaceutical supply chain integrity/security. That’s where I met him.
Chuck was a very humble, friendly person who had Continue reading Charles “Chuck” Schramek (1945 – 2010)
I’ve moved the RxTrace blog from BlogSpot (a Google site) to a hosted website using WordPress as the site database. The URL doesn’t change so the move should be transparent to you as a subscriber. I’ve had a couple of hickups along the way but I couldn’t have done it myself. I was fortunate to find someone who is a great artist and who knows his way around the technology. Matt Geiger took a list of my ideas and desires and then went away. The next thing I know he has implemented everything I asked for, and more, and is ready to move the site. I highly recommend his services to anyone needing web site design services, not just blog moves.
Now that the content is moved and the new look is in place, I have a lot to learn about WordPress. I expect to continue tweaking things in the next few weeks as I have time. I have so many ideas I want to write about but so little time.