GS1 India, a standards organisation, set up by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, has been striving to help businesses reduce operational costs through universally recognised barcoding. The technology helps in better management of goods right from manufacturing, stockists to consumers. Ravi Mathur, CEO of GS1 India, in an interview to Lola Nayar tells how the company is helping improve the healthcare experience for consumers. Excerpts...
How has GS1 India helped improve the consumer experience in its 23-year journey of promoting global standards through the use of barcodes?
From a consumer perspective, in general, the codes and the standards, seen on almost all products through barcoding, helps to ensure that you are billed the correct amount wherever you may purchase the product. Internally, for trade, it helps ensure that the products are in stock when you need them. Ensuring the availability and freshness of the stocks is of direct benefit to the consumers. The fact that we are able to verify information available on the product label in a digitised way is also of great benefit. The whole shopping experience, whether online or from a store, then becomes a seamless experience.
In the case of pharma products, which remain a continuing concern about the quality of products, how far do your standards provide relief?
In some ways, our standards do address the issue related to being able to differentiate between genuine products and non-genuine products, but only to a certain degree as the upfront quality is something which you can only check after consumption or after it has been tested out in a lab…
When a person is hospitalized, how do GS1 standards help consumers, and also the insurance companies?
These are two separate things. When you automate the whole process of management of medicines - within the hospital and across the wards in the hospital, from a consumer perspective, the system helps in ensuring the availability of life-saving drugs and everything else. It's not limited to medicines, it extends to all hospital equipment, hospital assets, all other hospital supplies as well. So, from that perspective, it ensures visibility of what's where. And by virtue of that visibility, a hospital can ensure the availability of drugs and medical devices when it is required. The standards also enable tracking to place a product in the whole supply chain right from the manufacturer of the medicine through the whole distribution network until it reaches hospitals or retailers. This enables the system to track if a supply chain has got compromised at any point.
The track and trace system is not limited to medicines but extends to all products that have barcoding. In fact, even hospitals can be uniquely identified for insurance-related purposes.
From the claims perspective, there are multiple issues connected with this. In many cases, claims are filed with insurance companies of hospitals which physically don't exist and the insurance companies have no way of verifying the physical existence of the hospital itself as I'm not talking only about Delhi and Bombay but across the country. The insurance companies often don't even know whether it is the same hospital masquerading under a different name. False insurance claim is actually a major issue. According to a study done a few years back, it is as high as 30%, or one-third of all insurance claims. This is more so in the case of government hospitals where oversight is very poor.
How many hospitals across the country have become partners to your efforts?
As part of that effort, which started only in 2014, the registry has over 30,000 hospitals and medical day-care centres on its data. The registry is developed by the Insurance Information Bureau of India (IIB), which is promoted by the Insurance Regulatory Development Authority of India (IRDAI). Unfortunately, the government hospitals across the country do not have a similar repository. Ideally, there should not be any differentiation between private and government hospitals, daycare units, etc.
How many products are covered under your standards and what is the adoption level?
One of the biggest beneficiaries is the retail sector, whether in the health sector, consumer durables or even banking (in cases of document authentication). In terms of the adoption level, starting from food to FMCG, general merchandise, kitchen appliances, etc., you will find that virtually all the products that you consume are covered. There may be some local products available across the country including food items which may not be covered. So as a consumer, you can just simply scan the barcode on the product and you can get all the information. This enables you to cross-check in case of any misrepresentation of information on the label. As it has benefits for logistics, warehousing, etc., lesser operational cost means lower end-product costs to the consumer. This can also help in wastage control, and prevent consumption of expired products.