The pharmaceutical supply chain is the means through which prescription medicines are manufactured and delivered to patients. This supply chain network is of course highly complex, requiring a number of steps that must be taken to ensure medications are available and accessible to patients. The supply chain involves various stakeholders, including manufacturers, wholesale distributors and pharmacies.
It is of no surprise that, in such a complex process, the stakes are incredibly high for pharmaceutical companies. Drugs that are distributed incorrectly affect both the company’s reputation and customer satisfaction, as well as potential profit. An ineffective supply chain could also have negative effects on public health.
An area of significant importance is the quality of labelling and coding, where clearly it is of paramount importance to ensure that the end user has access to clear, concise information and to help manufacturers to be compliant with national and international labelling legislation. The Falsified Medicines Directive brings mandatory serialisation to pharmaceutical packaging to combat life-threatening counterfeiting of medicines. Unique serial numbers must be combined with product data into a data matrix code and applied to individual product packaging. Manufacturers therefore look for only the best coding solution to meet this directive.
Counterfeit drugs and medical products entering the supply chain are also a serious and legitimate threat to the health of millions of end users. They cost the pharmaceutical industry billions of pounds every year, as well as polluting the integrity of trusted brands and damaging consumer confidence.
To counteract this threat, one of the ways of identifying drugs as genuine is to create labelling and coding that is resistant to counterfeiting by making it as difficult as possible to replicate a label or packaging, through the use of permanent laser coding.
Because laser is a flexible coding system, it makes it easier for genuine manufacturers to comply with regional and global regulations that enforce strict product serialisation. When more information is required, laser coders with a large marking field can accommodate extra data into the code. This in turn enables products to be accurately traced throughout the supply chain, so that counterfeits can be spotted before they reach the end user.
In addition however, there are certain aspects of pharmaceutical labelling that still need to be considered, such as lean manufacturing processes, line integration and optimal, future-proofed technology that represents a good ROI for the manufacturer. Coding must deliver high quality and permanence to ensure compliance, as well as being user-friendly.
Laser coding systems provide simple text and numbers, which continue to act as a baseline for coding and labelling in the medical industry, as well as complex graphics, and 2D codes. These markings can be applied directly onto most packaging and even under laminate barriers, negating the requirement for additional labelling and creating a leaner production process that saves on consumables, inventory and storage.
One of the most user-friendly codes is the QR code, which can be used for patient tracking, drug safety, and many other uses, QR codes are not only cost-effective, but they are also quick and easy to implement. The surge in the use of QR codes during the pandemic¹ has drastically improved the way hospitals run, providing a powerful solution in improving communication, transparency, and information between healthcare providers, caregivers, and care recipients.
In summary, laser coding technology stands up well to scrutiny, both as a combative measure against counterfeiting, but also as a system that encourages lean manufacturing techniques and can enhance the consumer’s user experience.