Radio-frequency identification technology in healthcare

20 June 2017 (Last Updated June 20th, 2017 18:30)

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is a wireless technology that transfers data from an electronic tag attached to an object through a reader using radio waves. RFID presents an approach to identify and manage tools and equipment.

Radio-frequency identification technology in healthcare

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is a wireless technology that transfers data from an electronic tag attached to an object through a reader using radio waves. RFID presents an approach to identify and manage tools and equipment. The technology has been successfully applied in many areas including manufacturing, supply chain, agriculture, and transportation, but its major sector is healthcare.

 Medical errors have a huge impact on public health and it is the third-leading cause of death inthe US. Lack of information and access, patient tracking, long waits at hospitals, inventory management, medication errors, and management of parking are also some of the major industry concerns. RFID provides an array of solutions to these problems by automatically identifying and tracking RFID tags attached to objects.

RFID helps to mitigate drug counterfeiting, simplifies the clinical trial process, improves the accuracy of patient identification, eases inventory management, streamlines patient tracking, improves communications between caregivers and patients, and eradicates the risk of administering the wrong medications. RFID also plays an important role during surgical procedures as it helps surgeons and operation theatre staff to track all required devices in a matter of seconds. The number of hospitals integrating RFID with their healthcare information systems is increasing as RFID shows better efficiency, good process control, improved safety, better planning and control, patient comfort, and faster response to critical events.

RFID offers many advantages over existing technologies such as bar codes, which are ‘read-only’, while RFID tags are ‘read-write’. This means bar codes must be individually read whereas groups of RFID tags are read simultaneously. RFID tags also permit reading through materials such as boxes.

Despite the many advantages that RFID offers, limitations include cost, not being designed to withstand extreme temperatures, continuous internet requirements, and high electricity demands. It is also difficult to apply RFID tags on metals and fluids. The life-span of RFID tags depends on batteries, which need to be replaced and adds to their cost.

Regulatory mandates must be made to ensure that RFID tagging is applied to all inventories in hospitals. This would identify and address barriers in managing the healthcare system. In future, smart phones are expected to replace RFID tag readers by using apps and middleware to read information on the tag.