Four Groundbreaking Use Cases for RFID in Health Care

By Inga Shugalo

When it comes to helping hospitals save more lives, the technology cannot be overestimated.

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Radio frequency identification (RFID) is often referred to as the world’s oldest new technology. When it was first released way back in the 1940s, it was thought to be groundbreaking. Now, more companies are starting to adapt RFID specifically for health-care software to enhance asset tracking and efficiency, among other benefits.

The RFID market in the health-care industry is expected to soar at a CAGR of 22.4 percent between 2019 and 2025. The reason behind this spurt growth is that, when combined with Internet of Things (IoT) and data-management systems, RFID helps hospitals improve stock management and provide a more secure service to patients. With this increase, it’s anticipated that RFID will help revolutionize certain aspects of the medical industry, some of which are outlined below.

Inventory Management and Overstocking
Health-care institutions have always had a disconnect when it comes to understanding the relationship between medicine supplies and the actual demand for said products in the hospital. RFID-based technology is a way for medical institutions to bridge this gap. Thanks to such systems, medical facilities can efficiently track real-time data regarding available inventory, including out-of-stock and overstocked items. Although this seems futuristic, there are active projects helping hospitals in Brazil better manage their inventory using RFID-based solutions, such as one developed by Goods That Talk.

RFID can also be instrumental in accurately managing patient journeys, from admission and scheduling to discharge. At the end of the day, this technology can be a significant difference in the number of patients a hospital can handle per day. For example, this is how the Adventist Health White Memorial hospital in Los Angeles was able to save close to $1 million due to faster RFID-driven care delivery (see RTLS Helps Hospital Cut Surgical Turnaround Time by 10 Percent).

Keeping Those Needles Clean and Safe
St. Louis-based Covidien has developed its own take on a smart syringe. Essentially, this contrast media syringe was designed to prevent human error when it comes to dosage and following treatment protocols. The RFID-equipped syringe was designed to create an interface between the contents in the syringe and a power-based injector. This helps radiologists ensure each patient gets the correct dose of the prescribed concentration (see Covidien to Pilot Its RFID-enabled System This Summer).

However, that’s just the start of what Covidien has to offer. These RFID tags have been designed in a way that prevents a used syringe from being used again. It will also terminate itself if the syringe is past its expiration date, thus making injections safer for both hospitals and patients. Covidien also has protocols in place to automatically synchronize the procedure with the patient’s information and print the identifying details onto a label.

Tracking and Tracing Prescription Drugs
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first approved the usage of RFID tags to track, monitor and control the distribution of prescription drugs in 2004. Since then, the mass serialization of prescription drugs has helped combat counterfeit pharmaceuticals on the black market.

In its report, the FDA explained that each pallet of prescription drugs would have its own unique number, also known as an Electronic Product Code (EPC). The same goes for each case and individual packaging. These numbers are used to track every transaction involving these drugs, helping to reduce the risks of crime and mishandling, and to improve the distribution process from manufacturer to patient.

In 2015, President Barack Obama signed a new law into effect known as the Drug Quality and Security Act. This act revolved around helping hospitals electronically track and trace prescription drugs through product identifiers (i.e., RFID tags). Since then, the combination of these processes has helped radically improve the control of distributed prescription drugs and reduce counterfeiting, while helping hospitals better manage and distribute their stocks to patients.

Asset Management and Protection
Regardless of the industry, manual asset management tracking and distribution generally requires a significant resource. In health care, these resources could be instead used to secure more beds, doctors and medical supplies, which are needed for daily operations. This is where RFID tags come into the picture.

Hospitals can use active RFID tags to collect critical asset information, such as their maintenance status, in order to help hospitals ensure their equipment works accurately and efficiently. Some of the advantages of RFID-based asset tracking in health care include efficient data collection and processing for the purposes of inventorying hospital machines and equipment, thanks to the ability to read multiple tags at once; real-time asset lifecycle management; the remote location and tracking of new assets; and asset security system support, with the possibility to trigger alarms in case of any criminal activities, such as someone stealing or tampering with the assets.

When it comes to the impact that RFID tags can have on the health0care industry, the above is just the tip of the iceberg. However, when it comes to helping hospitals save more lives, this technology can’t be overestimated.

Inga Shugalo is a health-care industry analyst at Itransition, a custom software-development company headquartered in Denver, Colo. She focuses on health-care IT, highlighting the industry challenges and technology solutions that tackle them. Inga’s articles explore the diagnostic potential of health-care IoT, opportunities of precision medicine, robotics and virtual reality in health care and more.