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Mississippi Blood Services Banks on RFID

The not-for-profit organization tested an RFID system to manage and track blood, improve safety, make deliveries more timely and lower costs.
By Samuel Greengard
Another roadblock was finding a label converter that could develop smart labels for the blood bags. The RFID tags had to withstand extreme temperatures, and the resins and adhesives used to attach the smart labels to the blood bags had to meet U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements—all while ensuring a 100-percent read rate. MPI Label Systems, based in Sebring, Ohio, devised a label utilizing an RFID inlay, human-readable text and bar-code data.

The biggest challenge was dealing with the chemical composition of the blood, which has a retuning effect on the RFID transponder. After several weeks of experimentation, as well as input from researchers at Texas Instruments (TI), the pair recognized that the transponder would have to initiate at a frequency of 14.4 MHz, then drop to 13.56 MHz within a fraction of a second—otherwise, the passive TI tags wouldn't connect to the Feig Electronics interrogators at the required 20- to 21-inch range.

The RFID system will provide real-time information about the location of blood, allowing the organization to anticipate shortages and distribution problems better, and to help improve the efficiency of the overall inventory process.

MBS used a Zebra R2844-Z printer-encoder to print the labels and verify that the tags worked correctly. Application engineers from TI and AARFID worked together to develop a unique portal enabling personnel to read the trays of blood products simultaneously, says Ellen Zeidler, a spokesperson for Texas Instruments RFID Systems.

After a worker applied the label for the specific blood product, an AARFID portal interrogator located just outside the cooler read the tag once more, ensuring that the system was reading the blood bags correctly as workers transported them in and out. "The location is strategic," says Carpenter, "because it allows workers to move blood products from the cooler, through the portal and into shipping containers."

The system, which took about 8 months to assemble, performed a data integrity check for the encoded data, consisting of the product code, FDA number, unit number, expiration date and blood type. AARFID software controlled the printer-encoder and the interrogators, managing the data that was written to each tag. It also automated the check-in and check-out of blood products from the freezers. It can perform emergency trace recall in the event that health professionals discover contaminated blood, and is equipped to handle daily and on-demand inventory of blood products, as well as order entry and order fulfillment, including packing and shipping.

Still, assembling the right technology was only half the story. MBS also had to change the way employees handled the blood bags. "We discovered early on that an array of human factors exist," Carpenter says. For instance, workers have varying degrees of accuracy when attaching labels to the desired spot on the bag. The bar-code labels have to appear in a specific area, so some workers remove the labels and reapply them.

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