Smart pharmaceutical and healthcare labels: Lets trace medicines from its origin

Traditionally, text and images were printed on pharmaceutical products to convey important information.

In recent years, the use of smart labels allows the developer to convey a greater amount of information about the product to the consumers, without the need for additional packaging space. It is worth noting that smart labels contain a transponder code which can be read by sophisticated devices, including radio frequency identification device (RFID) tags and near-field communication (NFC) chips. While most smartphones can read NFC chips, RFID tags can only be read by specialized receivers. Further, smart labels play a critical role in the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals. Some of the ways in which smart labels can aid the pharmaceutical production process include enhancing productivity and accuracy, managing inventory, and maintaining the quality of products.


Types of Smart Label

There are various types of smart labels which function in different frequency ranges and eases the workload of healthcare professionals and stakeholders in this domain. 


Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID)

RFID labels function in conjunction with an RFID reader, a data processing system, and a tag, with an embedded identification chip. The reader is an electronic system, with one or more antennas that transmit radio waves and read signals from RFID tags. In addition to the features of typical barcode labels, RFID labels offer numerous advantages. Since these labels use radio waves, scanning them does not require a clear line of sight. As a result, products are not required to be unpacked from their containers in order to be scanned and multiple products may be scanned at once, thereby, saving time.

Moreover, based on the frequency ranges employed to convey data, RFID tags may be classified into three categories: low frequency (LF), high frequency (HF) and ultra-high frequency (UHF). More details on the aforementioned categories have been discussed below:

  • LF RFID systems have a scan range of up to 10 cm and operate in the 30 KHz to 300 KHz band. Although they operate better in the presence of metal or liquids, as compared to other technologies, they have a shorter read range and a slower data read rate (which may interfere with other types of RFID tag transmissions).
  • HF RFID systems provide reading distances of 10 cm to 1 m and operate in the 3 MHz to 30 MHz frequency range. The applications of HF RFID include tracking surgical tools and secured access control.
  • UHF RFID systems provide quicker data transfer rates, read ranges of up to 12 m, and operate in the frequency range between 300 MHz and 3 GHz. Although they are more susceptible to electromagnetic interference, metals, liquids and other impurities, recent design advancements have helped in alleviating some of these issues. Due to their lower manufacturing costs, UHF tags are more frequently used in applications such as pharmaceutical anti-counterfeiting, inventory tracking and patient tracking.


Near-Field Communication (NFC)

NFC is a type of RFID, which is a contactless technology used for communication, that operates in a frequency range centered on 13.56 MHz. This technology enables users to wirelessly transfer identity data to the recipient for security and tracking purposes. Further, NFC technology is utilized in a variety of fields, including manufacturing, medical, banking and finance sectors, due to its ability to be is used within a defined range and reasonably safe nature. NFC chips may be included into product tags, labels and marketing materials, providing customers with an easy approach to extend their brand experiences into the digital world. NFC labels are also used to point customers to websites where they can find out more about the product or the brand than can be put on a label.

These smart labels thus assist in preventing counterfeit pharmaceutical / medical products coming into the market.

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