HP Uses Cloud To Fight Drug Counterfeiting

Patients, pharmaceutical companies, governments, and not-for-profits get help verifying authenticity of medications.
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The HP cloud is linking pharmaceutical companies with customers in developing countries in a global effort to combat drug counterfeiting.

This month, HP officially launched the Global Authentication Service, a cloud-based system to help consumers verify the authenticity of medications. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company said that the $75 billion counterfeit and stolen drugs industry accounts for 700,000 deaths annually.

HP is targeting both social and commercial uses for its technology, which is based on technology developed by HP Labs to manage the company's massive supply chain, which moves $60-70 billion worth of components and supplies per year. The new infrastructure includes three tracking technologies: direct printing on products, radio-frequency identification, and a precursor to what is now called near-field communication, according to Steven Simske, director and chief technologist for document security at HP Labs.

Only in the last two-to-three years have there been enough connected mobile devices with both SMS and camera-based barcode capabilities to make this technology work for healthcare, Simske said.

The Global Authentication Service helps verify drugs by printing a unique, 12-digit code under a scratch-off cover on each package of medication, following GS1 standards. HP technology puts codes on packages with the permission of drug companies, working with local anti-fraud authorities.

The consumer texts the drug's unique code to an SMS short code, also printed on the packaging, then receives a return text to verify the authenticity. HP's cloud serves as the secure conduit between the telecom carrier and the drug supplier, tying together data and services.

"The key element is a global authentication with an IT backbone," Simske told InformationWeek Healthcare. "Security is heavily involved in this."

HP is debuting the Global Authentication Service in India, where the fast-growing pharmaceutical market is attracting criminal elements, but the technology has been in use since December in Nigeria and Ghana, in partnership with mPedigree, a Ghana-based not-for-profit organization that helps combat drug counterfeiting. Early success with mPedigree led to HP's decision to commercialize its system under the Global Authentication Service name.

Expect more countries to get the service before the end of the year. "Our goal is to keep targeting countries in developing regions," said Simske, who serves on the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Illicit Trade.

Any country HP brings the service to must have a "good anti-counterfeiting operation" and be able to "credibly measure" the impact HP can have. Return on investment will be measured in terms of social impact, not necessarily profit or savings, Simske said

Find out how health IT leaders are dealing with the industry's pain points, from allowing unfettered patient data access to sharing electronic records. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek Healthcare: There needs to be better e-communication between technologists and clinicians. Download the issue now. (Free registration required.)

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