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What Is the Main Problem of RFID in Health Care?

Posted By RFID Journal, 08.22.2013

What are the primary weaknesses?

—Name withheld

———

I'm unsure whether you are asking which problems facing the health-care industry can be addressed by radio frequency identification, or what the weaknesses are of using RFID for health-care applications. So I'll take a stab at both.

The main problems that RFID addresses in health care are the challenges of locating hospital equipment, improving patient flow, managing inventory and tracking devices used during an operation. There are others, but I would say those are the biggest ones. Active RFID-based real-time location system (RTLS) technologies reduce the amount of time that nurses and materials-handling personnel spend searching for equipment by around 90 percent. Active systems can also track where patients are and make sure they are not waiting too long to, for example, check into a room or have an X-ray performed.

Passive RFID improves the tracking of stents and other expensive devices that are implanted in humans, as well as expensive drugs and other items. In addition, passive RFID is utilized to track scalpels, clamps, sponges and other materials used in operating rooms, in order to ensure that they are never left inside a patient. We have written many articles about hospitals that have benefited from using RFID in these applications, which you can read here.

As for weaknesses, the main one is perhaps the technology's inability to locate an asset precisely. While such systems have improved greatly, there can be times when it appears an asset is located in one room when, in fact, it is on the other side of the wall in an adjacent room. With passive systems, the challenge involves affixing a very small transponder to a metal scalpel or clamp. There are tags that can be affixed, but it would be better if the transponder was designed into the device. What's more, because of the device's size, the transponder must be small, which limits read range. Another issue is that there aren't any autoclaves that can read the tags. In the future, transponders will be put into the devices and readers into cabinets and autoclaves, making the monitoring of such items a lot easier.

—Mark Roberti, Founder and Editor, RFID Journal

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