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Understanding the Suite of RFID Technologies

There are many versions of radio frequency identification. Here's how to figure out which solution is right for your company's needs.
By Mark Roberti
Feb 04, 2008 On Jan. 23, RFID Journal held a very successful RFID in Health Care event, co-located with World Congress' Healthcare Supply Chain Summit in Las Vegas. I had hoped we could attract 100 people—and we wound up with a packed room of 175.

There were some terrific presentations at the event, including those by Dan Scharbach of Providence Health System/Portland, Tom Bradshaw of Wayne Memorial Hospital, In Mun of HCA North Florida and Verna Gibbs of UCSF.

Bradshaw showed, on one of his slides, that his hospital had planned to purchase 332 IV pumps for $1.34 million. Because the medical center had implemented an active RFID system, it wound up buying 53 fewer pumps, saving $276,000 in capital expenditures and another $27,000 in maintenance costs. I saw some people in the audience pull out calculators. No doubt, they were estimating how much they could save based on the number of IV pumps they have.

It always pleases me when we're able to show companies how RFID can save them real dollars or improve the way they do business. But one challenge that all firms face—hospitals, in particular—is how to choose the right type of RFID technology to meet their needs. A number of people in the audience asked about passive versus active RFID systems, ultrahigh frequency (UHF) versus high frequency (HF), Electronic Product Code (EPC) versus other standards, and so forth. Unfortunately, there are no simple answers to these questions.

RFID is part of the large suite of auto-ID technologies, which includes everything from bar codes on the low end to GPS and highly evolved RF sensors on the upper end. In between, you have many types of RFID. Their capabilities differ, and radio waves behave differently at each frequency range. So different types of RFID systems are used for specific applications.

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