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Wisconsin Blood-Tracking Study Moves to Phase 2

Based on results of an earlier study, the BloodCenter of Wisconsin and its partners will build a prototype RFID system for blood banks and hospitals, supported by a $1.4 million government grant.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 04, 2009After completing a two-year study that determined high-frequency (HF) RFID technology would be safe to use and financially beneficial for blood banks, a group headed by the BloodCenter of Wisconsin (BCW) has received $1.4 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to begin building a prototype of an HF RFID solution. This solution would include software, tags, and handheld and tunnel readers that could be utilized by blood banks across the United States, as well as by hospitals that provide transfusions. The prototype development phase (slated to last two more years) will include further studies of any effect that RF transmissions might have on plasma—to follow up on a previous study of red blood cells and platelets—and complete an impact-analysis report related to the return on investment (ROI) for hospitals that might employ the system.

The first phase of the study, completed in February 2009, was undertaken by a collaboration of groups, including the University of Wisconsin (UW) RFID Lab, information services consulting firm SysLogic, Carter BloodCare, Mississippi Baptist Health System and the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics (see BloodCenter of Wisconsin to Study RFID's Effect on Blood).

As part of Phase One, the UW RFID Lab tested how well passive HF tags could be read when attached to blood bags and placed in an insulated storage container.
This latest phase will be run by the same organizations. Mississippi Baptist Health System, Carter BloodCare and the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics will be used as models of different sizes and methods for managing blood products, as well as transfusions of those products.

The impact analysis of the first phase found that blood centers of BCW's approximate size, drawing blood for 250,000 transfusions annually, would typically recoup their expense of installing an RFID blood-tracking system within 3.9 years. This figure is based on an estimate that technology—including handheld or desktop readers, tags and software—would cost about $744,000 to acquire and install, and would provide a savings of $827,000 over a five-year period. Such savings would be the result of fewer man-hours spent tracking the movements of blood products, as well as a reduction in wastage resulting from blood products that had expired before they could be located and used. Another benefit—though harder to quantify—is the increased safety that would be created by better ensuring patients get the correct blood products, says Lynne Briggs, BCW's director of applications and project manager.

In Phase One, the Wisconsin group tested the effects of HF 13.56 MHz RF transmissions, compliant with the ISO 15693 standard, on red blood cells and platelets. During this phase, the blood products were subjected to between 23 and 25 consecutive hours of RF exposure at 13.56 MHz and five amperes/meter (100 watts). A simulated reader—using a loop device known as a Helmholtz coil to surround a blood bag—was utilized, rather than an actual RFID interrogator, thereby enabling researchers to bombard the blood bags with RF transmissions from all angles. The group chose to test only HF, Briggs explains, because ultrahigh-frequency UHF has the potential to excite the water molecules in the blood products to such level that they would be more likely than HF to raise the temperature.

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