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Health Industry Group Issues RFID Standard, But Excludes UHF for Consumable Items

The ANSI/HIBC 4.0 standard, created by the Health Industry Business Communications Council, provides guidelines for using passive RFID tags, but its likely impact on health-care organizations remains unclear.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
A second reason that HIBCC specifies the use of HF technology in medical settings, rather than UHF, is that individual items need to be read in such environments, and UHF's long read range (respective to HF) would make singulating them more difficult. "At the item level," Kikirekov says, "you want to be sure that you are reading the [tag attached to the] medical device that you want to read, and not reading the [tags] that you don't want to read."

A number of hardware providers now offer UHF RFID systems featuring short read ranges, designed specifically for reading item-level tags within large populations of tagged items (see A Shift to UHF Near-Field Predicted for Pharma and Metro Group's Galeria Kaufhof Launches UHF Item-Level Pilot). Impinj introduced its UHF near-field technology in early 2006, before HIBCC unveiled its RFID tagging guidelines, which formed the basis of the ANSI/HIBC 4.0 standard, yet Kikirekov says the technology was not proven when HIBCC wrote its RFID guidelines. Using only proven technologies, he maintains, is key to its standards process.

"For example," Kikirekov says, "with our bar-code standard, we held off incorporating 2-D technologies for many years. Recently, however, we have incorporated 2-D technologies in our bar-code standard." The technological maturity of passive HF systems, compared with passive UHF system, was another reason HIBCC specifies the technology. What's more, he adds, a number of HIBCC members, including orthopedics implant makers Zimmer and Stryker, are already utilizing passive HF tags and interrogators for identifying and tracking medical consumables and devices in the medical supply chain.

Nonetheless, excluding the use of UHF systems (with the exception of pallet and case tracking in warehouse settings) is not the best path for the health-care industry, according to Bob Celeste, the director of GS1 Healthcare US, a group created to promote the adoption and implementation of GS1 standards, including EPCglobal's RFID standards, by health-care organizations.

"We believe the recent publication of the ANSI/HIBC 'RFID HIBC for Product Identification' standard...may cause confusion in the industry and restrict appropriate use of RFID technology that could benefit U.S. hospitals and patients," Celeste says. "We believe multiple frequencies, such as UHF, HF, LF, Wi-Fi and others, can be deployed safely in clinical settings, in order to best match the unique properties of each frequency with specific applications."

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