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RFID in Heathcare

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is an identification system that uses the radio frequency waves for tracking purposes and transmission of information regarding objects and individuals. There is no need of manual contact with a reader nor is there a necessity to be in the line of sight of the reader in RFID. RFID enables the user to store information which can be further relayed .
In healthcare industry RFID is used to track not only the equipment and medicines but it is also used to track patients and doctors present. This leads to increasing efficiency of the healthcare operations. Also treatments become faster and the resources are conserved through RFID.

RFIDs are not only used to track the patients and the staff, they are also used to track various medicinal equipment used. The RFID systems are also used for more specific purposes like for controlling temperature fluctuations and maintaining proper environment for storage of medicines and drugs.

RFIDs are also used for Blood transfusion and storage processes. RFIDs are used to store, network and maintain the data related to the administration of Blood to the patients. ISO 18000-3m1 RFID tags are currently accepted by the International Society for Blood Transfusion and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as information carriers store bar-code data on blood products. This was the first FDA-permitted implementation of RFID in the blood banking. RFIDs also help in integration with the blood enterprise-computing system. Radio Frequency is also used for safety testing of medicinal products. They help in categorizing products by verifying their identity.

Benefits of RFID for Healthcare

The various aspects of RFID which have made it an indispensible part of the healthcare industry are -

  • Improve efficiencies of existing resources – RFIDs enhance efficiency of various healthcare processes. There is low error generation from the technology due to its easy usage. Low error generation leads to cost savings for the healthcare. RFID gathers and analyzes data regarding staff members' movements, in order to ascertain how the unit RFID in healthcarecould be more efficient.
  • Interface with information systems like existing hospitals – RFIDs are useful in providing an interface for networking. This can be useful for contacting other hospitals or health care providers in case of emergency.
  • Decrease the incidence of lost or stolen equipment – RFID helps in increasing the security of the healthcare area. The tagged equipment can be easily tracked and therefore prevented from being stolen. Also tags cannot be easily removed due to small size. Some of the active tags trigger alarms if removed.
  • Easy adoption and flexible usage – RFID systems can be easily installed by the healthcare provider and used flexibly by tagging all the required objects. The installation and working of the systems are easy and effective.
  • Reduce errors by tracking medical devices – The errors in assigning medication and treating the patients are reduced due the use of RFID. RFIDs can track the required medicines. RFID databases can help in assigning the required medicine to the concerned patient.
  • Increase patient monitoring and safety – The safety and security of patients are increased considerably by RFID. With each patient being tracked by RFID, the security is increased multifold times.
  • Improve staff, patient and asset workflow – There is an improvement in the workflow of the healthcare staffs and patients with the RFID. RFID optimizes the use of staffs and the comfort of patients. For example, track the amount of time that each patient awaits radiation treatment, and to verify that the correct equipment is being employed. This data can help the healthcare provider in analyzing as to what the service provided requires for better outputs.
  • Decrease in Labor Requirements – RFID being an automated technology leads in a major decrease in manual work requirements. RFID helps in making major activities automated and therefore efficient.
  • Increase in Supply chain efficiency – RFID tags are used to increase supply chain efficiency, resulting in purchase savings and lower costs.

Limitations while using RFID in Healthcare

Major limitation of RFID has been those of survivability, performance and range issues. A prerogative of healthcare providers is the efficiency of RFID. There is little room for errors in  performance. RFID mostly lives up to all the expectations though there is a lot of inertia in implementing RFID especially in small and mid-scale health care providers. Key limitations :

  • Associated cost of technology – Since RFID technology is relatively new, there is demand only from a select few healthcare units. The cost problem arises primarily due to the low usage of the technology. The numbers of RFIDs being used today are not substantial enough for the technology to be made cheap. With lesser use of RFID there is hesitation in implementing it. The cost of Active Tags generally costs 25$ and above. Low and High Frequency tags cost a little higher. Passive Tags costs as low as 15 cents in which only a bar code is printed.
  • Reusability issue- This issue arises when a tag is to be used for a different reason or by a different reader. The total money spent for RFID is thus based on volumes and reusability.
  • Security and accuracy issue – Since RFID does not require any swapping of cards, the tap and go style can lead to security issues in case when proper care is not taken. For most RFIDs, the tags are not sensitive of the readers. This makes them prone to hacking.
  • Technicality Problems related to RFID-   There is also a possibility of the RFID readers being unable to read the tags correctly. This can be due to glitches like collision of tags, setting of multiple readers, or persistence of tags no longer of use. This may lead to inefficiency in data produced by the reader.

How healthcare industy is using RFID

East Savo Hospital, Finland

The Eastern Finland, which is home to more than 75,000 people depend majorly on the East Savo hospital for basic as well as emergency treatment. In 2005, the hospital embraced the use of technology to not only control the medical care work but also to reduce working costs.

In 2008, East Savo hospital implemented RFID in place of the other wireless networks already implemented. The major reason behind RFID implementation was to control access to various areas in the hospital. Hospital wanted to have data security and patient’s safety and RFID was a perfect solution.
With time not only did RFID help in improving the security of the area considerably, but it also helped in maintaining the records of the movement of several patients as well as staff members.

Pantai Healthcare, Ipoh, Malaysia

The fast growing city of Ipoh is roughly 125 miles off the closest big city Kuala Lumpur. With a rapidly growing population and a depleting nursing facility, the healthcare provider saw a perfect opportunity of implementing RFID in Ipoh where they had their general acute care hospital. The group also had several regional hospitals.

With nursing staff fleeing to a more lucrative Europe, Pantai hospital used RFID to track the patients and their movements. The technology helped in reducing the staff problem that the hospital was facing. The RFID databases were accurate and reliable.
Moreover the costs of operations also decreased. Thus RFID helped revolutionizing the Hospital which could have had serious labor problems.

Future of RFID in healthcare

RFID is a tremendous future aspect for healthcare providers. RFID being useful in various aspects of tracking provide a wider hope of efficient and safe working. RFID market is set to rise fast from $90 million in 2006 to $2.1 billion in 2016. This rapid increase can be attributed to the fact that there is item based tagging of staffs, patients and assets.

Summing it up..

RFID is viewed as a technology in its early stages with lots of untapped potential. RFID provides amazing applications for the healthcare industry and it should be no surprise to see RFID evolve with a rapid pace. As major healthcare providers such as E health care, Awarepoint, Centrak, Radianse, have started using RFID for providing healthcare vendors for such systems have also increased in number.

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