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Lab Focuses on Testing Tags for Health-Care Applications

Solstice Medical's simulation of a hospital's reprocessing unit is designed to assess the durability of tags following sterilization, or in extreme temperatures.
By Beth Bacheldor
Oct 23, 2006Solstice Medical, a provider of solutions for managing the life cycle of medical equipment, has opened a lab for device manufacturers and hospitals to evaluate various passive and active RFID tags and readers. This will allow them to determine the tags' suitability for use on surgical implements and medical implants.

Located in Fort Wayne, Ind., the lab simulates a hospital's reprocessing unit, where reusable surgical devices are sterilized, says Daniel Sands, Solstice Medical's president and CEO. Tests in the lab will check the life cycles of RFID tags by putting them through a series of washes, decontaminations and steam-autoclave cycles in excess of 275 degrees Fahrenheit (a typical method hospitals use to sterilize instruments). Once the tags go through the various cycles, RFID interrogators will attempt to read them to determine if they still function.

Daniel Sands
The tags will also be tested in subzero environments replicating the low temperatures at which certain medical specimens must be stored. In the future, the lab may actually place the tags into implantable, or in vivo, devices (such as artificial joints or artificial valves) to test their durability.

"Medical device manufacturers increasingly face challenges to retain and grow customer loyalty and increase profitability," Sands says. Manufacturers that loan out surgical devices to hospitals for testing need to be able to keep track of their locations. The use of an RFID system that automates the visibility of device status can help reduce the cost of health care, Sands explains. Without RFID, manufacturers must incur the expense of sending people out to check on loaned equipment.

"RFID can also help improve patient safety by ensuring the devices have been sterilized properly," Sands adds. "There are a lot of different applications that can be tied with the RFID tags to make sure the devices are meeting regulations."

The concept of tracking medical devices with RFID is gaining ground. To improve product maintenance and reduce shrinkage, some equipment providers are already utilizing the technology (see Medical Distributor Puts RFID Tags on Equipment). In August, the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a notice in the Federal Register asking for information to help it understand how the use of a unique device identification (UDI) system, such as one using RFID technology, might improve patient safety (see FDA Seeks ID System for Medical Devices and Supplies).

The Solstice Medical RFID lab is financially backed by the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center (NIIC), the city of Fort Wayne, the Fort Wayne-Allen County Economic Development Alliance, Northern Apex-RFID and the NIIC's International Center of Orthopedic Research (ICOR). The city of Fort Wayne, for example, provided a grant for $18,740, as part of an overall $160,000 investment to set up the lab and assist with its equipment acquisition.

The lab is now open. Testing services cost about $200 per hour.
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