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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
HIBCC also aligned the standard so that tags employing phase jitter modulation (PJM) technology could be used. Zimmer, for instance, utilizes an RFID tag made by Magellan, which developed PJM technology (usable in 13.56 HF tags under the ISO 18000-3 standard), for tracking its products—including hip, knee, shoulder, elbow, spinal and trauma implant kits—as they are shipped to hospitals worldwide (see Children's Hospital Boston Joins Others Using RFID to Track Implantables).

HF tags and interrogators that comply with the ISO 15693 standard (another subset of the ISO 18000-3 standard) are already widely used in health-care applications as well (see Healthy RFID Rivalry for Hospitals and Tennessee Hospital Tracks High-Value Items).

ANSI/HIBC 4.0 does not make any recommendations regarding the use of RFID for tracking assets, such as wheelchairs or pumps. Active (battery-powered) RFID systems are already widely used for tracking the locations of high-value assets in hospitals and other health-care settings. "Active tags used for real-time location systems would be addressed by other standards," Kikirekov states. "Plus, with those devices, you likely already have a lot of [RF] shielding to prevent EMI."

EPCglobal, which is working to standardize RFID systems for use in supply chains and other applications, is close to ratifying an HF standard. But HIBCC was not interested in adopting this standard for its own members, Kikirekov says, because it wanted to use existing ISO standards, and because the HIBCC data system is based on alphanumeric numbers used in a specific format. Some products in the medical supply chain—such as pacemakers or other implantable devices that are composed of discreet parts from various suppliers and need to be tracked closely—are issued serialized identifiers under the HIBC system. But other products, such as catheters, which are manufactured in huge quantities by single suppliers, are monitored using non-serialized product IDs (wherein the specific lot number is encoded for traceability). What's more, Kikirekov says, to use EPCglobal-related services and the EPC numbering system, HIBCC members would have to subscribe to EPCglobal.

According to Kikirekov, HIBCC, as an ANSI-accredited organization, is tasked with following the ANSI standard-setting process when developing auto-ID standards for health-care applications. ANSI also routinely audits HIBCC, he adds, to ensure that the organization follows due process. The HIBCC Auto ID Technical Committee (AITC), which comprises representatives from manufacturers and hospital provider organizations, developed the RFID standard. However, he notes, ANSI rules stipulate that all members of the AITC must vote on key decisions relating to standards under development. Before ANSI approved the ANSI/HIBC 4.0 standard, it was made available for public comment for six weeks and received a unanimous vote by the technical committee.

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