Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices as a Service?

A few months ago I purchased a new HP printer and was given a brochure for their new ink replacement service.  As usual, I’m suspicious about anything that claims to be able to save me money (BTW: take a look at our VirtualPilotTM service, it’ll save you over physical pilotsJ).  I read the brochure at least four times before I found that, on the face of it, I couldn’t find the trap (if you know what I mean). Basically, with their new printers, the ink cartridges let the printer know that they’re running low and the connected printer lets HP know.  HP then ships out new cartridges directly to your home or office along with an envelope to send back the empties. For me, the service costs $5 per month! … and I never have to worry about running out of ink in the middle of a client proposal, or on the weekend or at night when the stores are closed and I never have to remember which cartridge each of my printers take!  I get an email telling me that they are sending new ones and the process has never failed!  I always have at least one extra cartridge available.  Nice!

So, this is a perfect example of the Internet of Things (IoT) isn’t it?  I never thought that there would be such a thing as ink as a service, but in retrospect, it makes perfect sense since all printers these days are connected to networks or home WiFi.  And, just like the camera, text messages and Apps on our mobile phones, once you experience it, you never want to go back.

Which got me thinking … what else did I want as a service?  How about the paper? How about almost everything that I buy repetitively?  The catch is, they have to be connected, otherwise the company is guessing and sooner or later, I’ll end up with too much or too little of whatever it is.

Which brings me to the subject of this little rant… why can’t this apply to industry? Well, there are three key elements that had to come together for this to work in my printer.  First, the printer needed to be connected to the internet, second, the ink cartridge needs to be self-aware, or be able to report a status and the ink cartridge needs to be serialized (have a unique identifier).  Sound familiar Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Industries (and apparel, automotive, aerospace, electronics, fresh foods, retail, etc.)?

With the onset of the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA), by 2023 each item within the US pharmaceutical industry will be serialized, connected (via traceability systems) and have a status (or, “disposition” if you are using GS1 standards). I realize that there are many business practices that have developed around the status quo, but, I doubt the law will go away, and if accomplished correctly, the results may just enable a business evolution based on IoT principals.  If you doubt it, ask the next generation. They expect information on everything to be at their fingertips and might be appalled how inefficiently businesses run today. Much as we are when we think back that it was only the 1960’s or 70’s that all businesses took orders on paper, items in grocery stores had no barcodes and you actually dialed a phone.

So, after much debate, serialization and traceability will occur in the pharmaceutical industry (and, I believe, in sections of the medical device industry), companies and entrepreneurs will start to connect the dots, and business as usual, won’t be.