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Does RFID Create Negative Effects in Hospitals?

Posted By RFID Journal, 10.01.2009
Please explain what effects, if any, radio frequency identification can have on hospital equipment.

—Name withheld

Last year, researchers in the Netherlands published an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) indicating that passive RFID systems could disrupt the operation of defibrillators and other medical equipment, and occasionally induce "potentially hazardous incidents in medical devices" (see Researchers Warn RFID May Disrupt Medical Equipment). However, that study might not have been in line with the reality of most current hospital RFID deployments (see Dutch RFID Interference Study Is a Worst-Case Test).

There are two issues at play here. One is that electromagnetic energy from RFID interrogators could impact the operation of medical equipment by, say, causing it to turn off. The second is that RFID systems could affect the many RF devices used in hospitals.

Implants and other devices that might employ RFID have not necessarily been designed to operate in an environment in which other RF devices could cause interference. For instance, when doctors implant pacemakers, they program them over the air using a proprietary wireless connection. That connection could potentially be knocked out by an RFID reader.

It should be noted, however, that no cases of patients being harmed because of an RFID system affecting medical equipment have been reported—at least, not to my knowledge. And in 2008, researchers at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis and systems integrator BlueBean found no incidents of electromagnetic interference (EMI) from passive UHF RFID systems (see New RFID Study Finds No Interference With Medical Devices).

At our recent RFID in Health Care event, each speaker said they had not seen RFID equipment have any impact on medical devices of any kind. What's more, AIM Global is developing testing protocols that will enable hospitals to ensure that RFID equipment being installed will not impact medical equipment or devices.

—Mark Roberti, Editor,
RFID Journal

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