Losing the trace


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Australia is falling behind in tracking and tracing medicines through the supply chain, say experts

Australia is falling well behind a number of other countries in its systems to ‘track and trace’ medicines, say experts who have called for more investment in technology around barcoding.

Speaking at the e-Medication Management Conference 2021 in Sydney this week, Catherine Koetz, Healthcare Industry Manager, GSI Australia, said “in many other countries – and not just countries in a similar economic position to Australia, but also in some developing economies – you can now actually trace medicines from their arrival or manufacturing right through to which patient they are dispensed to.”

“You can even trace an individual tablet or syringe in many cases. You can monitor for their expiry or where medicines in a batch have gone if there is a recall.”  

The use of barcoding and track and trace systems was “being inhibited” in Australia for a number of reasons, she said.

“Traceability requires technology uplift, and there’s not really the necessary level of expenditure in this area in Australia,” she said.

“There are also some legislative issues as well as the lack of investment in core technologies. We still have many systems here which are unable to see a barcode.” 

Ms Koetz said there were two major, broad benefits to improving medicine traceability

1 – Patient safety improvements – “In Australia we tend to think we don’t have an issue with counterfeit medicines, but we do, and it’s growing and will continue to grow. Traceability of approved medicines can help with awareness and prevention of this issue.”

2 – Inventory management and visibility – “the ability to see exactly which product is where in the supply chain improves stock analysis and data, improves product delivery and the ability to identify potential problems”.    

However, recent moves by the Therapeutic Goods Administration to push better healthcare system use of barcodes and traceability have “moved things a couple of steps forward,” she said.

“Their use should increase as a result of having guidance around this,” Ms Koetz said, referring to new legislative standards around bar coding in Australia.

Both Ms Koetz and Matthew Tuk, general manger, SA Health talked about the supply issues revealed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic highlighted that we have really significant technology gaps in Australia,” Mr Tuk said. 

“It’s shown how much we depend on our offshore technology partners, and how we don’t have a lot of capability needs when overseas products are unavailable.”   

“A lot more controls and checks are also needed when you’re using other products and manufacturers.”

 

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