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German Clinic Uses RFID to Track Blood

A hospital in Saarbrücken, Germany, is tagging patients and bags of blood to make sure every patient receives the right blood product.
By Rhea Wessel
Feb 27, 2006A hospital in Saarbrücken, Germany, is using radio frequency technology to track bags of blood to record transfusions and ensure that patients get blood intended specifically for them. The project, which is being deployed by a consortium of companies including consulting and systems integrator Siemens Business Services (SBS), is in an initial test phase in the internal medicine division of Saarbrücken Clinic Winterberg. The system will be extended to blood bank supplies for about 1,000 patients, and works together with another SBS-implemented system to identify patients via RFID-based wristbands.

In the initial test phase, about 1,000 bags of blood are being labeled, and all steps—from assigning each bag to a patient to the start of a blood transfusion—are being tracked and recorded. Before the system was implemented, bags of blood were tracked with bar codes and human-readable text.

Thomas Jell, SBS
This RFID solution adds significant security so the hospital can make sure the correct blood product is given to each patient, maintains Thomas Jell, SBS' project manager for both the blood and patient RFID systems. Additionally, he says, the overall process of managing blood bags is eased and less time-consuming.

"This is the first project worldwide to really identify blood bags and patients, and automatically double-check that both fit together," says Jell. "The system automatically transfers information about transfusions into the database for the blood bank and into the billing system."

With the new blood-tracking system, hospital workers attach a self-adhesive 1.5-by-1-inch RFID label to each bag of blood arriving at the hospital. The label's passive 13.56 MHz RFID chip has 2 kilobytes of memory for storing a unique identification number, the hospital tracking number (used by the blood bank system) and information on blood type.

These numbers are also saved in a secure database containing details about the blood's origin, its designated purpose and, once dispensed, its recipient. When a nurse wants to prepare a blood transfusion, he or she uses a handheld computer with an RFID interrogator to read the data encoded on the blood bag's RFID chip and the inlay embedded in the patient's ID bracelet. The latter includes a patient ID number and such medical information as the patient's weight blood type. The data from the patient and the bag must match before the blood can be used, minimizing the risk of patients receiving the wrong type of blood.

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