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Zebra and PDC Target Healthcare

New printer can produce patient wristbands with RFID tags, which can prevent mishaps in hospitals.
By Bob Violino
Nov 21, 2002Nov. 21, 2002 - In the United States alone, more than 100,000 people die in hospitals each year due to medical errors, according to a study by the Institute of Medicine. Billions of dollars are wasted to treat patients who have been given the wrong medication. Zebra Technologies (NASDAQ: ZBRA), a Vernon Hills, Ill., provider of barcode printing equipment, believes there's a big opportunity in using RFID to help solve the problem.

Zebra has teamed up with Precision Dynamics Corp. (PDC) of San Fernando, Calif., to offer a printer that can produce patient wristbands with ultra-thin RFID tags. Zebra's R402 radio frequency identification printer/encoder will be able to print PDC's CompuBand wristbands on demand and encode them with patient data.

For hospitals that buy or develop software applications, the wristbands can be used to identify the patient, store information about conditions, allergies, drug dosages and so on that can be accessed instantly by hospital personnel. The system could be set up, for instance, to warn doctors when a patient is about to be give a drug that he or she is allergic to.

Zebra has been moving into the RFID market, providing a line of printer/encoders that can be used for applications that require more than a barcode. The alliance with PDC is part of Zebra's focus on the healthcare market.

"We've embarked on a vertical orientation strategy for certain markets," says Jim Young, Zebra's senior manager of alliance development. "Healthcare and life sciences is one area of focus, and the product that PDC brings to the party helps both companies to gain entry to the patient-care arena."

Zebra and PDC have been working together for about two years. Zebra plans to bring other alliance partners into its system integrator program, so that it can offer hospitals a complete solution – the printer/encoder, smart wristbands and software and integration.

"No one vendor can supply all pieces," says Young. "You need to develop what we call a solutions stack. So Zebra and PDC would expect to marry up with other partners."

The Zebra printer can be set up to print graphics, barcodes, or human readable characters on the wristband, including the patient's name, hospital room number on so on. The printer checks to make sure that the tag in the wristband is functioning. The tag can then be encoded with a patient ID and other information. It can be updated by a handheld encoder as the patient's information changes.

The R402 printer/encoder supports the ISO-15693 RFID standard and works with either Texas Instruments' Tag-It or Philips' I-Code 13.56 MHz passive RFID transponders.

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