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Utah Valley Regional Medical Center to Run Pilot With IR-RFID Tags

As the hospital tests the system's ability to track patients, staff and assets, it also plans to check for any potential electromagnetic interference that may disrupt medical equipment.
By Beth Bacheldor
The other, conducted by researchers at the University of Amsterdam's Academic Medical Center in the Netherlands, examined both passive 868 MHz and active 125 kHz RFID systems. That study found several incidents of EMI by RFID (see Researchers Warn RFID May Disrupt Medical Equipment).

EMI from wireless systems is not a new phenomenon, Holyoak says, noting, "We are all aware of this problem and are very conscientious about it." Still, he says he takes issue with media reports that he believes hyped the findings from the Dutch study. "The stories made it sound like there is a big panic, and that hospitals have this new thing to be worried about. It wasn't the study or its findings—we are aware of EMI—it was the reaction of the media."

Utah Valley Regional Medical Center has established policies based on testing conducted by Holyoak that found cell phone use caused electromagnetic interference that could affect medical devices. The hospital discourages visitors and patients from using cell phones in patient rooms, encouraging them to operate the phones only in hallways or waiting areas. Furthermore, doctors and nurses have been educated to be sure, if they must use a cell phone in a patient room, that they keep the phone at least 3 feet away from any medical equipment.

Larson Holyoak
Medical equipment manufacturers, Holyoak says, continue to improve their products to protect them from EMI. "Manufacturers are doing more with shielding [of EMI] so we are seeing less effects," he states.

As Utah Valley Regional Medical Center rolls out its pilot of the infrared-RFID RTLS, Holyoak's team plans to place the tags/badges by the equipment at various distances—from right next to a device to several feet away—and to observe whether there is any interference or disruption to that equipment. Holyoak expects that the 3-foot rule—keeping tags at least 3 feet away from any medical equipment—will suffice in preventing any disruptions. He also believes that rule should be easily applied, primarily because RFID emissions will occur only in waiting areas and hallways, and not in patient rooms, where the system's infrared component will be used instead.

In addition to testing for EMI, Holyoak says, the hospital staff will be educated regarding how to utilize the RTLS, and on the need to keep tags a safe distance from medical equipment. "If we do find something happening from EMI," he states, "we will have to take a closer look. For starters, we'll have to ask if the equipment affected is a piece of equipment that would cause serious problems if there was a disruption, such as a ventilator or defibrillator. We would have to do more extensive testing. And we might have to develop ways to work around the problem."

Even so, Holyoak says he considers RFID's benefits to be much greater than the risks. "As long as we test everything and educate our staff," he notes, "I can really see how this is going to far more beneficial. There is always potential for problems, but we are very conscientious. If we had any doubts about this, we wouldn't be bringing this in. Patient safety is our number-one concern."

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