Thursday, April 06, 2006

Tabs and Tags

Getting back to the issue of RFID, I attended the IAPP’s Boston KnowledgeNet meeting yesterday afternoon, on the subject of “The Language of Privacy.”

Jean-Paul Hepp, CPO with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, was one of the speakers. Mr. Hepp discussed a number of the privacy issues he faces every day, including the sensitivities of marketing medicines to those who might benefit from their use. Perception, as you might imagine, is a huge issue, and pharma companies must take extra care to ensure patient privacy is protected.

The ways in which this is accomplished is a discussion for another post. Suffice to say it is a complex and fascinating process.

I asked Mr. Hepp about the challenges Pfizer faces relative to the use of tagging medicines. His answer, in which he gave a brief history of the genesis of Pfizer’s use of RFID, was illuminating.

The popularity of Viagra, and the flood of counterfeit products, prompted Pfizer to adopt RFID as a means of implementing quality control as well as to identify fake pills from the real thing.

Of course, the tandem of a sensitive medical issue – erectile dysfunction – and the issue of a technology that can reportedly be used to spy on people results in a volatile combination, and Hepp told of the frustration in dealing with the so-called advocates who used Pfizer’s RFID program as the fulcrum in an anti-RFID campaign.

Guess who the most vocal advocate was? If you said CASPIAN, congratulations: you’ve obviously been paying attention.

Cost and practicality dictate that tagged medicine not go beyond the pharmacy shelf. When medicines are sold to individuals, pills are transferred to amber pill bottles.

Observation: There is a compelling case here for Pfizer to take their message to the public and explain the benefits of their anti-counterfeiting program to the public. A quick and unscientific search for information on this issue reveals an abundance of coverage, but the overwhelming majority of publicity is found in technology trade publications, pharmaceutical industry publications, and other non-consumer outlets. Reaching out to a broader consumer audience is important here in order for Pfizer to establish rapport with potential customers and to build trust with that important audience.


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