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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
Although HIBCC did not conduct any scientific experiments to support this concern, Kikirekov and Hankin cite a study published last summer in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that found that radio frequency identification could—at certain power settings—disrupt the operation of defibrillators and other medical equipment, and occasionally induce "potentially hazardous incidents in medical devices" (see Researchers Warn RFID May Disrupt Medical Equipment). HIBCC released a set of guidelines for using RFID—which was developed into the ANSI standard—in 2007, before JAMA published its EMI study, conducted by researchers at the University of Amsterdam.

Hankin acknowledges that another study, conducted after JAMA published the University of Amsterdam's research, showed that UHF systems created no EMI when used with antenna positions and power settings that would be seen in a typical hospital setting—which contrasts with the University of Amsterdam study, in which power settings and configurations were tested that one would not likely see used in hospitals (see New RFID Study Finds No Interference With Medical Devices). However, he says, HIBCC deferred to the former study because it has more credibility, having been published in a medical journal, and because the secondary research was conducted with the help of an RFID service provider that has a stake in the RFID industry.

But Dan Mullen, president of AIM, an industry association for automated identification and mobility technologies, says that in forming its RFID standard, HIBCC should have conducted independent research, rather than relying on the University of Amsterdam study. "That, in particular, was disappointing," he says, "because we are trying to make standardized, repeatable test protocols for using RFID in health care." In late 2008, AIM Global announced plans to develop a set of test protocols that it hopes will be employed worldwide to study RFID's effects on medical devices, clinical instruments, pharmaceuticals, blood products and other biologics (see AIM Global to Develop Protocols for Testing Effects of RFID Emissions in Health Care).

To achieve this goal, AIM's RFID Expert Group is collaborating with the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) and MET Laboratories, and hopes to establish its initial protocols by the end of this year, according to Bert Moore, AIM's director of communication and media relations (see Team to Develop Standards for Testing RFID in Health Care).

According to Hankin, HIBCC has a mandate to ensure that its members employ various technologies safely, but the RFID usage standard is completely voluntary. "If a hospital wants to deploy a [UHF] passive RFID system and they don't have any problems, then God bless them," he says. "But if they have problems down the road, they can reference our standards. We are not against the use of auto-ID technologies, and I don't want to leave the impression that we're against RFID—we're all for it—but we want it to be used safely."

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