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Disadvantages of RFID in healthcare

Modern healthcare is so advanced that it has enabled the simplification of many processes in the medical industry. RFID is a modern advancement that has proven to be beneficial in the healthcare industry. Its benefits span across a variety of industries including manufacturing, logistics, automotive, retail, and agriculture. However, it doesn’t mean the RFID technology is a one-size-fits-all. It does have its fair share of drawbacks and barriers which could make industries think twice before implementation. Proper planning is required for successful implementation of RFID solutions in healthcare. Here is some information on RFID and its role within the healthcare industry along with some of the disadvantages of this technology.

RFID In Healthcare

RFID technology uses radio waves to transmit information obtained for tracking and evaluation. The system consists of an RFID tag, which is a small silicon chip that can transmit data to an RFID reader. An RFID reader can be a portable handheld device or a device that is attached to something like a door. The RFID tag can store information including unique ID, location, and various other data. It is an efficient and effective way to securely store sensitive confidential information handled by hospitals regularly.

Key Components Of RFID Systems

The two key components that an RFID system consists of are RFID tags and readers. Tags can be active or passive, and consist of silicon microchips that can send or receive radio frequencies, depending on the type of the tag. Active tags are generally more expensive and have their own batteries. 

Passive tags are less costly and don’t have their own internal power source. A single passive tag can store less than 2 kilobytes of data and is used in short-range applications. Active tags can store between 2 and 128 kilobytes and can transmit and receive radio waves farther than 3 meters.

An RFID system consist of the following:

  • A scanning antenna
  • A transceiver
  • A transponder

The scanning antenna and transceiver are also referred to as the RFID reader.

How RFID Benefits The Healthcare Industry

RFID technology provides some major benefits to the healthcare sector.

  • It helps simplify asset management in hospitals.
  • It helps keep track of medicines and patients in hospitals.
  • It improves the efficiency of inventory management.
  • It can hold more data than barcodes.
  • It helps identify expired medicine and malfunctioning equipment in hospitals.
  • It helps manage sterilization of surgical tools.
  • It provides access control and authentication.
  • It helps keep track of hospital visitors.
  • It helps manage patient-doctor interactions.

Disadvantages Of RFID In Healthcare

With so many benefits, RFID solutions also have a few drawbacks when implemented in real-life scenarios. Here are some of the disadvantages of RFID in healthcare.

  • High Costs

Implementing RFD solutions involve high costs. That is why it is important to do a feasibility test to properly analyze if it is actually required for any application or process. The investment should be worth the results. Active RFID tags are more expensive than passive RFID tags. The former could cost anywhere between $20 and $100 each. Passive RFIDs are relatively cheaper with each tag ranging anywhere between $0.1 and $1.5 per tag. However, passive tags don’t have their own internal power source and can only be used for short ranges.

 

  • Interference

RFID technology works on radio waves. It uses these radio signals for data transmission. Therefore, interference could occur anywhere in between. It is especially true when there are devices such as walkie-talkies and forklifts near distribution centers. Also, the presence of mobile phone towers in the vicinity, could also cause interference issues when transmitting radio waves. Radio waves are the primary mode of functioning of RFID tags. Without a proper medium of sending clear radio waves, there is more opportunity for data to get lost along the way or misread at the receiving end.

 

  • Signal Problems

Some materials could also cause signal issues in RFID systems. Materials such as liquids and metals are one of the primary reasons for the existence of signal issues. Tag placement is a science which means that they need to be placed in a specific location and all of the tags stacked in a specific orientation to get a consistent read. It requires specific knowledge on how to stack to prevent or minimize signal issues.

 

  • Read More Than One RFID Tag

RFID does not require line of sight as barcodes do. It is also not restricted by it. With barcode technology, one can choose to read a single barcoded item on a shelf, over 10 feet away. However, it does not work in the same way with RFID technology. The RFID can and will read every tag within its range. There exists the option of getting directional RFID readers, but they are still not as selective as visual devices such as barcode scanners. 

 

  • Tough-To-Grasp Technology

RFID solutions are based on technology that is typically hard to grasp. Not everyone might be able to do it as it requires a bit of an advanced technical knowledge. Implementing RFID solutions involves understanding various tags and frequencies along with how to use all of the necessary equipment. It could be a challenging task to do. The management also needs to be updated on the technology to be able to train the staff on the ins and outs of RFID and a new workflow.

 

  • Security And Privacy Issues

Privacy and security concerns are vital to note when implementing RFID technology in a healthcare setting. These include inappropriate collect of data, unauthorized disclosure of medical information, and intentional misuse of confidential data. There is a possibility of unauthorized readers intercepting RFID tag data. It is one of the major security and privacy concerns of implementing RFID solutions in healthcare facilities such as hospitals.

 

Overcoming The Barriers To RFID In Healthcare

Overcoming the disadvantages of RFID in healthcare is possible with appropriate procedures in place. One of the major drawbacks of implementing RFID is the high cost involved in it. Therefore, it is vital to analyze the economic impact of RFID implementation to overcome the cost concern related to its adoption. Conducting a cost-benefit analysis prior to implementation is ideal to overcome this issue.

It is also important to conduct early performance testing to avoid running into technical issues after implementation. It can also help healthcare organizations avoid unexpected costs or interference at the beginning of the implementation process. Testing the RFID solution in a small-scale real-life healthcare setting can also help identify any issues that might crop up after implementation.

The technical difficulties in this hard-to-grasp technology is another concern in the healthcare industry. To avoid this, healthcare organizations need to conduct adequate and comprehensive training programs before deploying RFID solutions. All medical and administrative staff should be trained to handle the system properly and to be knowledgeable on the security and other aspects of RFID. It can also help prevent data errors from occurring and tighten security loopholes, especially ones that can be caused by users.

The most common reason for RFID tags to stop working is through physical manipulation. The microchip and transponder could get crushed and damaged during shipping and physical handling. It can make the tag inoperable. The tag will also stop working if it is placed on a flexible product that causes it to bend until the antenna separates from the microchip.

RFID Technology And Its Threat To Privacy

Individual tracking and profiling are some of the ways RFID becomes a threat to privacy. The linking of personal identities with unique RFID tag numbers could allow for tracking individuals without their consent or knowledge. For example, an RFID tag embedded in a shoe could be an identifier for the individual wearing it. This type of threat to privacy is a major risk of implementing RFID solutions without adequate planning and execution. 

Are RFID Locks Secure?

RFID locks are generally much safer than other locks that use wireless or Bluetooth technology. Even if someone gets hold of a card, they won’t be able to use it once the card owner deactivates it. This protects RFID locks from being accessed and manipulated by unauthorized users.

Applications Of RFID In Healthcare

RFID technology is in place across many applications and processes in the healthcare industry, which includes the following:

  • Patient tracking & safety
  • Patient medical records identification & tracking
  • Medical staff tracking
  • Patient-doctor interactions control
  • Asset management
  • Inventory management
  • Sterilization of surgical tools
  • Critical systems monitoring
  • Baby tagging
  • Hospital visitors tracking
  • Access control
  • Medicine and pharmaceutical tracking
  • Equipment tracking

RFID Frequencies

There are three main RFID categories which are determined by their different frequencies. These frequencies differ based on the country and region they are functional in. The three main types of RFID systems are low frequency (LF), high frequency (HF), and ultra-high frequency (UHF). Another category that is there apart from the main ones, is Microwave RFID.

Here is a look at each of these RFID systems in detail:

  • Low-frequency RFID systems: These RFID systems range from 30 KHz to 500 KHz. The frequency in use more often is 125 KHz. It has short transmission ranges between several inches and six feet.
  • High-frequency RFID systems: These RFID systems range from 3 MHz to 30 MHz. They generally have a frequency of 13.56MHz. The transmission range is between several inches and several feet.
  • UHF RFID systems: These RFID systems range from 300 MHz to 960 MHz. Their most common frequency is 433 MHz. They can be read from a distance of over 25 feet.
  • Microwave RFID systems: These RFID systems run at 2.45 GHz and can be read from over a 30-feet distance.

RFID Vs. Barcodes

RFID and barcodes have similar functionalities. However, there are also significant differences between the two technologies that make one outdo the other in different circumstances.

RFIDBarcode
Does not require line of sight to be readRequires line of sight to be read
Has a tag capacity between 100 bytes and 8 kilobytesCan handle only up to 32 digits
Can be read in a medium that is dusty, oily, or wetCannot be read when it is dirty or damaged
Multiple tags can be read simultaneouslyCan only be read one at a time
New data can be overwrittenIs only readable

RFID Vs. NFC

Near-field communication (NFC) is a method that allows for data exchange between two devices. NFC is primarily used in contactless payment applications. Here are the differences between RFID and NFC.

RFID Near-field communication (NFC)
Has a range of up to 100 metersHas a range less than 0.2 meters
Works in one directionWorks in both directions
Continuous samplingNon-continuous sampling
LF/HF/UHF/Microwave frequency13.56 MHz
Bit rate changes with the frequencyHas a bit rate of up to 424 Kbps

Conclusion

RFID brings along many benefits to simplify and streamline processes in the healthcare industry. However, it also has some significant drawbacks when implemented in a healthcare setting. In order to successfully deploy RFID technology, hospitals and healthcare facilities need to overcome the barriers to it. Strategic planning and following adequate procedures could help the healthcare industry reduce the impact of the above-mentioned consequences of implementing RFID solutions.

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