RFID in Healthcare: Revolutionizing Patient Safety and Changing the Landscape

By Anjali Mishra

The technology offers numerous benefits for the healthcare sector, including a reduction in human errors, improved patient safety and augmented task accuracy.


With the alarmingly high population growth rate and the increased number of patients worldwide, patient safety has become a matter of grave public health concern. With an overload of patients and limited tech availability, medical errors are on the rise in the healthcare sector.

According to a  World Health Organization report, there is a probability of one out of 300 patients being the victim of a medical error. The majority of these errors can be ascribed to specimen misidentification, incorrect blood transfusion and adverse drug events.  The FDA states that a substantial number of medical errors caused due to misidentification are avoidable by incorporating IT solutions in the healthcare industry.

RFID: The Wave of the Future
Radio frequency identification (RFID) is anticipated to become the next big disruptor in the healthcare IT sector for its ability to efficiently track and trace. RFID has emerged as one of the most powerful technologies in collecting data and enabling the automated monitoring of the locations, movements and identities of individuals, assets and products. The technology leverages radio waves to collect and transmit data without requiring human assistance. It consists of RFID tags containing a tiny chip that collects and stores pivotal information, then transfers it to an RFID reader. Such tags can also be placed on equipment or staff badges to keep track of patients and personnel.

The technology is witnessing a high demand due to the benefits conferred by embedded RFID, allowing healthcare facilities, hospitals and clinics to enhance efficiency, reduce capital expenditures and improve patient care. The global market for RFID in healthcare is anticipated to attain a valuation of US$12.89 billion by 2027, expanding at a CAGR of 15 percent, according to the latest research report from  Emergen Research. RFID solutions offer an efficient and cost-effective information system to enhance patient service from admissions to administration.

The Five Primary Ways RFID Is Deployed in the Healthcare Sector
RFID technology offers an automated and safe data-capture system that enables patient safety, supports staff and patient workflow, authenticates quality and sterilization processes, keeps track of medical equipment location, automates supply chain management and efficiently manages surgical instruments. Here are five ways in which RFID has proven to be advantageous in the healthcare industry and the lives of the patients to whom it caters:

Patient Safety
Apart from the economic contribution, the healthcare industry is responsible for, at its core, its work to save lives. RFID tags and sensors play a pivotal role. Wristbands equipped with RFID chips improve safety through point-of-care scanning, allowing the easy retrieval of a patient’s prescribed medicines, medical history, and meal and medication schedules. Moreover, wristband tags allow newborn infants to connect with their parents and help healthcare personnel monitor the children’s safety. RFID technology also enables the tracking of patients who come in contact with each other, allowing them to minimize the risk of an infection spreading.

Inventory Management
RFID assists in patient inventory management to ensure the right resources—equipment, devices and medicines—are available when necessary. Medical facilities can save millions of dollars in expenditures through the deployment of RFID-assisted devices in asset management. Medical supplies, such as prescription drugs, are ordered, tracked and sorted via RFID, ensuring flow and service are reliable for patients. RFID-assisted devices reduce supply chain and equipment costs drastically, along with reducing product expirations, shrinkage and waste.

Quality Control and Validation
Advanced quality control is necessary to serve medical facilities and patients better. The proper medications should be administered in the correct amounts to achieve desired results. RFID ensures that medical personnel receive accurate information through the tags to make correct decisions. Validation allows for augmented healthcare facilities, since it focuses on the right patient and treatment, drastically reducing the incidence of medical errors. It also enhances productivity and assists in accurate administrative and audit documentation.

Monitoring Crucial Systems
Critical systems cover everything from medical devices and instruments to refrigerated storage environment, as well as surgical instruments and equipment. RFID tags play a significant role in reducing errors in laboratory processes. Enhanced tracking of lab materials, such as blood vials, test tubes and slides, provides increased efficiency and better control over inventory. One significant benefit of RFID is the tracking of equipment and instruments, regardless of their size. This helps in the proper accounting of devices, while ensuring that no tool is left inside a patient during surgery.

Personnel and Staff Management
RFID tags can significantly help track medical personnel during an emergency or ensure their availability during critical situations. RFID-assisted devices also ensure that proper hygienic practices, such as handwashing, are maintained inside and out of an OR. One essential example of RFID’s assistance is the freedom surgical nurses have from physically tracking and accounting for surgical equipment during surgery, thereby increasing their efficiency and productivity in assisting surgeons.

These five ways demonstrate how beneficial radio frequency identification technology is in healthcare. Numerous benefits, such as real-time traceability of medical instrument, staff and patient location, and seamless workflow, are attracting more interest in the technology in the medical sector.

Benefits of RFID in Healthcare
RFID technology in a clinical setting helps to track blood samples or medications in real time, while simultaneously offering real-time visibility of inventory. The technology enables hospitals to monitor the temperatures of heat-labile drugs in the supply chain and confers necessary precaution to maintain standards and compliance. Proximity cards offer a reliable and seamless way for personnel to access specific areas of a hospital without needing to enter an access PIN every time. Such proximity cards can be associated with a hospital’s database to provide secure access to privately printed jobs.

RFID data can be stored, managed and shared online. Battery-powered RFID, such as ultrasound, is equipped with a system that leverages Wi-Fi connectivity to transmit data to healthcare systems like EMRs and asset-management systems. Active RFID is advantageous for mobile assets that are not confined to a workstation, and passive tags can help to track assets and packages in areas lacking Wi-Fi coverage.

As the demand for RFID in healthcare grows, so will advancements in RFID features and capabilities. The technology offers numerous benefits for the healthcare industry, including a reduction in human errors, enhanced patient safety and augmented task accuracy. While the independent integration of RFID might have some limitations, combining the technology with other technologies, such as hospital information systems, electronic health records, and massive support from clinical decision support system, is anticipated to boost its performance across healthcare settings.

While the technology is hugely beneficial, its adoption has been slow, owing to the absence of barcode scanners, a lack of awareness and improper standardization. This could hamper the growth of the market during the coming years. However, RFID paves the way for a lot of opportunities to enhance patient safety.

Anjali Mishra is a content writer and editor at  Emegen Research with a knack for all-things-market. She is conversant in all industries, though she writes most passionately about emergent technologies, food and beverage, and the automotive sector. When she is not busy writing, you can either find her reading or Google-ing photos of vintage cars.