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RFID-enabled Locks Secure Bags of Blood

Ospedale Maggiore, a hospital in Bologna, Italy, has been using a system involving RFID-enabled seals to be sure patients are given only the blood intended for them.
By Rhea Wessel
Sep 26, 2006At hospitals around the world, workers continue to make mistakes matching blood groups, and some studies show human error rates for blood transfusions have not improved during the past two decades. Ospedale Maggiore, located in Bologna, Italy, has been using an RFID-based system to match patients and blood bags, ensuring that transfusion patients are given the blood intended for them. Tiomed, an Italian medical-device company, designed and installed the system, which has been in operation since May.

Daniele Luppi, a doctor at Ospedale Maggiore who worked on the project, says the hospital is moving away from its current system, using an ID bracelet with an iButton from Maxim Integrated Products. The iButton consists of a computer chip enclosed in a 16-millimeter stainless steel circular case. It can be read at a rate of 16 or 142 kilobits per second, but instead of transmitting that data via a radio signal, the iButton requires direct electrical contact with a handheld device by means of a cable.

The hospital is moving toward an RFID system for several reasons: It is more user-friendly, it has faster reading and writing capabilities, it has larger data-storage capacities, and it can perform some steps of the positive-identification process automatically. Luppi says the most important advantages for the hospital have been better compliance with procedures and higher acceptance from both blood-service operators and clinical unit operators.

Tiomed's system features MediLock, an RFID-based electronic seal attached to bags of blood. MediLock can be unlocked only when a multifunctional, wireless handheld device, the Palmed, communicates the correct identity of a patient receiving the blood.

The basic idea behind the system is to identify, in a unique way, every single item used in the transfusion process—from the test tube and request form to the patient, explains Sonia Rubertelli, Tiomed's head of operations. "It works by linking all these unique codes, and all the information gathered throughout the process, to the unique patient code, so that we are sure that all information is related to that patient and not another," she says.

After receiving a request form filled out by a doctor, a nurse goes to the patient's bedside with the form, a test tube with a bar-code label on it and the Palmed. About the size of a mobile phone, the Palmed includes an RFID interrogator that conforms to the ISO 15693 standard and operates at 13.56 MHz. It also comes with a bar-code reader, a fingerprint reader that may be utilized later for user authentication and the software needed to run the device. The RFID reader on the Palmed is supplied by U.S. company SkyeTek, while the bar-code reader is manufactured by Symbol Technologies.

The test tube is used to hold a blood sample that will be analyzed to confirm that a patient's blood group is the same as that of the blood being transfused.

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