The commercial use of barcodes began 45 years ago last week, and RxTrace began 10 years ago this week. These are pretty incredible milestones and it is worth stepping back and thinking about what it all means. GS1 issued a press release about the barcode’s 45th anniversary last week, providing links to several videos. These include some old-timey videos of what grocery checkout was like before barcodes, and when the UPC barcode was first introduced in Troy, Ohio in 1973. It made me feel old.
You see, I worked as a box-boy in high school at the Ben Franklin “dime store” (my grandmother called it it the “five and dime store”, and today you would know it as a “dollar store”) in Galva, IL, before the barcode was used on products. On Saturday mornings, I would sometimes be assigned to the overflow checkout counter. I learned to use an old electro-mechanical NCR cash register, so I have personal memory of what the checkout process required from a worker viewpoint. Yes, that makes me really old, but I can also really appreciate what barcodes have done for us—good and bad. Can you picture me as a skinny kid in one of those old-timey videos?
GS1’s press release provides a little bit of the history of the barcode. My essay about the “National Drug Code” from 2012 provides some of the history from a pharma perspective, which overlaps with theirs. The barcode has had the third-most profound impact on my career—the first two being microcomputers and the internet. When you combine those three inventions, you get the center point of my entire career (see “Summer Writing: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Me”). I built my first board-level microcomputer system in 1978. Everything I’ve done professionally since 1983 has been applying barcodes to warehouse and supply chain automation systems. Ethernet was added to everything I’ve done since about 1988 and the Internet since about 1993.
And then I started RxTrace ten years ago. July 4, 2009 (see “Welcome to rxTrace”). Today’s essay is the 575th essay. As a body of work, I think it fulfills nicely the tagline “A comprehensive exploration of healthcare supply chains, track and trace technology, standards and global regulatory compliance”. It’s all there, including the changes that have occurred in the industry over those 10 years. My early writing was focused on the “pedigree” concept as defined by the Florida Pedigree Law. That quickly morphed into “ePedigree” and “serialization” as defined by the California ePedigree Law. And in 2013, that morphed into “serialization” and “track and trace”, as defined by the US Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA), and later the EU Delegated Regulation of the Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD) and others. “Progress” has been made over that time—or at least, the target has moved…several times. And I have documented it here.
And now I enter my coda year. Those of you who read my annual anniversary essays have probably figured out that I’m a fan of Led Zeppelin music. I’ve been using their album covers as the essay image each year to mark the sequence. Coda was Led Zeppelin’s 10th album (the unique way I calculate it anyway) and their last “studio album”. In fact, it was a collection of leftover tracks from previous album recording sessions. While all of its tracks were not previously released, technically, it was not “new” music. Don’t worry, I’m not going to spend the year releasing previously unreleased old essays.
This year I expect an increase in the issues needing examination stemming from the pharma traceability regulations in Russia, Brazil and China. These are all very significant markets, and how the deployments turn out for companies trying to meet their regulations will probably be determined by how early they obtain information about those regulations. That’s where RxTrace comes in. Don’t treat RxTrace as a sole source for information about regulations, but I am interested in these regulations too and I monitor GS1 Healthcare and other sources for public information. The information I provide is public and provided “as is” with no warranties.
Of course, I will also continue to monitor the activity in the US and EU. We are only a few years away from the deadline for full implementation of the DSCSA in the US. The entire industry must work closely with the FDA to define what everyone needs to do before that deadline. No one can tell you what that is yet. That’s going to get painful for everyone. Stay tuned for news and analysis of all the action. Some people thought the DSCSA was “over” last November. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
What image will I use next year to mark the 11th anniversary of RxTrace? I’ve got a full year to figure it out.
Happy anniversary barcodes…and RxTrace.
There will be no RxTrace essay next Monday. Enjoy the Independence Day holiday.