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RFID to Take the Chill Out of Frozen Plasma Tracking

The Mallorca-based blood bank is deploying an RFID system from Aifos Solutions, including EPC Gen 2 tags and readers from Alien Technology, to track bags of blood and its derivatives—from donor to hospital.
By Claire Swedberg
May 26, 2010When staff members at the Blood and Tissue Bank of Balearic Islands (FBSTIB), on the island of Mallorca, search for a bag of frozen plasma on order for one of the area's hospitals, they wear coats. It's no small project to locate the proper bag among as many as 30,000 stored there, all largely looking the same, packed tightly in crates that hold 80 bags. Employees often lug the crates out of storage, where the temperature is -35 degrees Celsius (-31 degrees Fahrenheit), into a warmer place, in order to sort through them with a bar-code scanner to determine the correct item, after which they put the crates back in storage before the warm temperatures can affect the product. Finding the right product for a particular patient is critical, and so workers take the necessary time, reading or scanning as many as five bar-coded and printed labels, to verify the product, the processes through which it has been and its expiration date.

With a new RFID system now being installed—to track hemo-derivatives from the point at which the blood is drawn in mobile blood donation clinic (typically, a bus or similar vehicle) until it leaves for a hospital—the process is going to become more efficient (by eliminating the need to scan a label's bar codes, or visually read its printed text) and safer (by ensuring mistakes are not made), according to Josep Muncunill, a medical doctor and FBSTIB's CEO. The system is being provided by Spanish RFID systems integrator Aifos Solutions. Aifos and FBSTIB tested the system this year in several pilots at the blood bank, before beginning the permanent installation, which includes a fixed reader at the plasma storage freezer to capture tags as they enter and leave it, handheld interrogators to locate items in the freezer, and desktop readers to update data on the tag as blood is processed. Passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tags, containing Alien Technology's Higgs 3 EPC Gen 2 chip, are attached to each bag, and AIVLAND Blood Supply Toolbox software, provided by Aifos Solutions, links the RFID data with FBSTIB's management system to provide information regarding each bag's contents and location to FBSTIB's management, says Esteve Jané, Aifos' CEO.


Dr. Josep Muncunill, FBSTIB's CEO, shown here donating blood
When a bag of blood is first extracted from a donor, it undergoes a complicated journey of testing and processing before it reaches a recipient at one of the hospitals on Mallorca and the three other major Balearic islands. The blood is drawn at mobile units throughout the four islands, then is taken to FBSTIB's processing center in Palma de Mallorca, where it is tested for infectious disease and then broken into sub-products, such as platelets. A bag of blood product remains in storage until a hospital orders it for a specific patient, and it is then transported via airplane or ship to the neighboring island on which it is needed. Each step of the processing and storage of blood products must be tracked, to ensure the proper blood or plasma reaches the correct recipient, and that it has not expired.

A different label printed with bar-coding and text is attached to the bags at each event related to the blood product. When blood is drawn from a donor, it is put in what is known as the "mother bag," which is accompanied by three empty bags that will eventually be used to store the products made from that blood. At each event, all four bags receive bar-coded labels in addition to those already placed on them. For example, each of the bags has one label used at the time of the donation, with a donation identification number (DIN) label identifying that donation, the date and time, and the person's blood type. After testing for disease is conducted, another label is attached to each bag (whether empty or not) to indicate testing has been completed. The blood can then be separated into three different products—red blood cells, plasma and platelets—which are poured into the empty, labeled bags. Those bags are again labeled with the appropriate information as to what is in each individual bag, and all data is stored in the Blood Bank Information Management System (BBIMS). By the time a bag of blood product is ready to be administered, Muncunill says, there are typically as many as five or six labels attached to it.

The storage of blood products varies widely; platelets must be kept in motion (an agitator is used to ensure they do not lose their functionality) and can be stored for up to seven days at about 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius), while red blood cells must be stored at about 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius), for up to 45 days, and plasma may be stored frozen for up to 36 months.

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