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Reproductive Clinic Uses RFID to Guarantee Parental Identity

At Overlake Reproductive Health, passive 13.56 MHz RFID tags and interrogators track human sperm, eggs and embryos throughout the assisted-reproduction process.
By Claire Swedberg
At every step in the process, each specimen container is placed on a plate with an RFID reader, which captures the container's tag ID. IVF Witness opens that patient's account, and if any specimens tag IDs do not belong to that account, the system transmits an alert, emitting an audible alarm and displaying a red stop sign on the workstation screen. When this happens, the system cannot be restarted until an explanation is input to the system.

"The patients are incredibly happy with it," Kelly says. New patients in particular, he adds—who have not yet had the opportunity to build a level of trust with the Overlake staff—find the RFID system reassuring. According to Kelly, Overlake continues with its original practice of hand-marking each specimen and using two witnesses to ensure the owner's identity, but now it also has another layer of security. Although no situation has yet caused the system to issue an alert, Kelly says, the medical center has tested the system repeatedly and it is functioning properly.

"It is expensive," Kelly says, citing the system's price tag of nearly $60,000, and the clinic has had to extend some of that cost to clients. "They're not complaining," he notes. "They're happy to have that security."

Overlake typically completes up to 500 embryonic procedures annually. The system does not have FDA approval but doesn't need it, according to Research Instruments. Still, the RFID system provider has tested it with mouse embryos to ensure that radio waves do not harm specimens. In Research Instruments' tests, the tags transmitted continuously for four days without any perceptible effects on the mouse embryos.

RFID was chosen for this application, rather than bar-coding or some other technology, because it enabled a passive inventory check of the work area prior to the procedure being carried out, says David Lansdowne, technical director and patent holder at Research Instruments. With RFID, Lansdowne explains, lab personnel do not have to scan an item—they can simply place it on the workstation plate, and its ID number will be captured. Because automatic ID confirmation occurs as soon as a specimen is placed on the workstation, he says, a clinic "can ensure that laboratory SOPs [standard operating procedures] are being followed—something that is impossible with bar-code systems."

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