Falsified Medicines and beyond

One of the side conversations at the Mattereum Identity summit on Monday was the idea of tracking individual copies of objects (‘this bottle of Coke’), not just classes of objects, (‘a bottle of Coke’). It is a solution searching for a meaningful problem (in London at least).

The Falsified Medicines Directive is the EU-wide response to fake medicines affecting Africa and China. The Directive places obligations on all parts of the medicine supply chain to keep, publish, and share records on flows of medicines in and out. Relevant parts come into effect in 2019 (pre-Brexit).

The end goal is to allow anyone looking at a pack of pills from a pharmacy in the EU to be able to trace those back through the supply chain to the manufacturer that made them, through every intermediary. Any one customer can keep the entire chain honest.

This will not stop falsified medicines being created, but it will show when and audit where they appear in the supply chain, and give clear reassurances to a patient holding a pack of pills.

It may be a while before a central system can cope with a lot of people seeing a news report of a problem and putting their packet’s barcode into a website, in a manner that is usable and reliable. There are scalability and coordination issues that a single closed system may struggle to overcome.

When the public see something that works (however the NHS system ends up working), there will be increasing demand for a similar audit for other important purchases when the supply chain contains risk or food chain are involved. Options include one real pill being equal to one digital token to represent the pill, with faucets available for anyone who either creates pills or who receives them from an intermediary who doesn’t comply.

For the “but blockchain is just a database” crowd, a form of distributed data structure where everyone can write, where better standards are de facto than de jure, and where no one is really in charge, is a perfect environment for how to do things well in the NHS. Plus, the NHS is a culture that has not had entirely positive experiences instituting databases. But as always, our health and blockchain questions apply.


Apr 2018
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