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Health Industry Group Issues RFID Standard, But Excludes UHF for Consumable Items

The ANSI/HIBC 4.0 standard, created by the Health Industry Business Communications Council, provides guidelines for using passive RFID tags, but its likely impact on health-care organizations remains unclear.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Aug 14, 2009The Health Industry Business Communications Council (HIBCC), a nonprofit health-care industry organization formed in 1983, was established to develop health-care-specific standards for using bar codes and other forms of auto-identification technology in the health-care industry. The agency has received approval from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) for a standard pertaining to the use of RFID labels to track products as they move through the health-care supply chain, or are put to use by health-care providers.

The group has issued a number of other standards in the past, under the Health Industry Bar Code (HIBC) moniker. The intended users of these standards are HIBCC member companies that manufacture, sell and consume medical products—everything from catheters to implantable devices and surgical tools. Such members include medical equipment and consumables manufacturers Johnson & Johnson Medical Supply and Stryker. Hospitals that are HIBCC members include Riverside Community Hospital, in Riverside, Calif., and the Greenville Hospital System, in Greenville, S.C.

While this new standard, known as ANSI/HIBC 4.0, provides guidelines for employing passive RFID tags, it uses the same data formatting as the HIBC. The HIBC is an alphanumeric identification system that not only incorporates product identification, but can also include other data specific to health-care applications, such as information regarding an implantable medical device, or the patient in which that device is implanted.

ANSI/HIBC 4.0 specifies the use of existing ISO standards for tag-data management. For the air-interface protocol, it specifies the use of a number of ISO standards: 18000-2 (operating at 130 kHz), 18000-3 (13.56 MHz), 18000-4 (2.4 GHz) and 18000-6c (870-930 MHz). However, it also specifies the applications for which tags operating at these various frequencies are to be used. For identifying individual consumable products within medical settings, such as within a hospital or operating room, it calls for utilizing either low-frequency (LF) tags (130 kHz or lower, compliant with the ISO 18000-2 standard) or high-frequency (HF) tags (13.56 MHz, compliant with the ISO 18000-3 standard). Ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tags (870-930 MHz, compliant with the ISO 18000-6 standard) are only to be used on loading docks or warehouses, and for reading tags attached to pallets or cases of products.

HIBCC's reasons for keeping passive UHF RFID systems out of areas within health-care centers where patients reside are multifold, explain Kirk Kikirekov and Robert Hankin, presidents of HIBCC Australia and HIBCC North America, respectively. The possibility that passive UHF systems could create electromagnetic interference with other, vital equipment in health-care settings, they explain, was a main concern.

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