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Pros and Cons of RFID in healthcare

IOT and RFID Integration Services

RFID Technology

Radio Frequency Identification, commonly known by its abbreviation RFID, is a wireless technology that uses a reader to send data from RFID tags to an object, via radio waves. It has been successfully implemented in agriculture, manufacturing, supply chain, and transportation sectors. However, its major use is in the healthcare industry. Medical errors can take a toll on public health. Therefore, it’s essential to streamline processes within the healthcare sector in order to minimize these errors.

RFID Solutions In Healthcare

RFID technology in healthcare enables location tracking of patients and medical staff. It also allows for improved asset and inventory management procedures while ensuring the highest quality of care is provided to every patient. A streamlined process is able to maintain a hospital’s reputation for excellent patient care, with the involvement of RFID technology. RFID solutions help effectively manage and secure confidential and sensitive data in healthcare facilities such as hospitals. RFID solutions are widespread in the healthcare industry with the following among them.

  • Asset tracking
  • Inventory management
  • Baby tagging
  • Tracking of sterilization of surgical tools
  • Temperature monitoring
  • GS1 asset labeling
  • Patient safety with tracking
  • Staff safety with tracking

How RFID Works

RFID works as a wireless communication method that uses radio waves to identify and track objects. RFID systems consist of an RFID tag, which is a microchip that sends data to an RFID reader. Tags are attached to objects which include people. In hospitals, RFID tags are attached to patients, medical staff, and equipment, to scan objects, track their locations, and monitor their movements. RFID tags have ‘read-only’ or ‘rewrite’ internal memory based on the type of application. In terms of storing information of an asset, it would include data such as u unique ID, manufacturer date, etc.

Components Of An RFID System

The different components of an RFID system work together to give the desired output. The following are the main components of an RFID system:
  • RFID tag which is attached to an object and has a unique identification
  • An antenna, which is a tag detector that creates magnetic field
  • RFID reader, which is the receiver of tag information
  • Communication infrastructure, which enables RFID to work through IT infrastructure
  • Application software, which consists of the application, interface, and database

Pros And Cons Of RFID In Healthcare

There are many benefits and drawbacks to implementing RFID technology in healthcare. 

Pros of RFID

  • RFID in hospitals offer real-time traceability of blood samples and real-time visibility into the hospital inventory.
  • It offers real-time tracking and management of medical staff across various patient-care environments. It can be helpful especially when tracking productivity in large and busy hospitals.
  • It allows the monitoring of the temperature of heat-sensitive medication while ensuring compliance and standards.
  • It provides access control and monitoring of patients, medical staff, and visitors in hospitals. It prevents unauthorized access to critical regions within the hospital such as operating rooms and inventories.
  • It allows for effective asset management.
  • Active RFID tags allow real-time tracking of locations and are more accurate than the data obtained through passive RFID tags.
  • It allows for data to be stored, managed, and shared online.
  • It is helpful when tracking hospital assets that are highly mobile and do not have a permanent station. Examples include hospital beds, wheelchairs, and other hospital equipment.
  • Passive RFID technology solutions are affordable and small, which makes them easy to attach to small devices and objects.
  • Passive RFID tags can tag several items simultaneously.
  • Passive RFID tags are able to track objects in areas that do not have wireless communications, including Wi-Fi.

Cons of RFID

  • RFID technology requires installation of antennas and readers throughout the hospital to collect real-time data.
  • Although active RFID tags provide more accuracy, they are more expensive than passive RFID tags.
  • Active RFID tags also require more maintenance due to the need for frequent battery replacements.
  • Due to high costs and more maintenance of active RFID tags, they are primarily used for staff monitoring and infant security purposes.
  • Active tags require an infrastructure of receivers to work as intended. In addition, certain technologies use proprietary equipment that may need to be installed in coverage areas.
  • Active tags function only where there is Wi-Fi. Therefore, achieving real-time data via active RFID tags is not possible outside the Wi-Fi range.
  • Although passive RFID tags do not require Wi-Fi, they do not track information in real-time. It may not be helpful in specific circumstances and applications in hospitals.

What To Consider Before Deploying RFID Technology

Healthcare facilities such as hospitals need to weigh the pros and cons of RFID technology to decide if it’s the right choice for the organization. There are also a few other things that healthcare facilities need to consider before deploying RFID solutions. They are as follows:

  • Hospitals should consider which RFID type to use, active or passive, depending on the cost and functionality required for the purpose.
  • If barcode technology can help achieve the same goal, then it could be more cost-effective to use barcodes than RFID tags.
  • RFID required installation and maintenance. So, the hospital should consider if they have the required engineers to undertake installation and maintenance of the infrastructure.

RFID Applications In Healthcare

RFID has made its way towards a large number of applications in the healthcare industries. Below are some of the major applications of RFID technology in healthcare.

  • Patient Tracking

RFID solutions provide tracking and authentication of patients in hospitals. This includes newborns up to seniors suffering from memory loss and related conditions such as dementia. Some of the services that fall under this category include mother and baby matching, bedside care, and monitoring of patient movement.

  • Medication Authentication and Control

RFID technology allows the administration of medication to a patient even while the nurse is away and. Computer on wheels (COW) allows this to be possible and patient information confidentiality is maintained by programming the system to go into screensaver mode.

  • Inventory Management

RFID solutions can help manage the entire supply inventory of a hospital. It provides real-time visibility of hospital supplies unlike conventional methods like barcode readers. RFID technology is also helpful for shared storage spaces such as locked pharmaceutical cabinets. It provides restricted access and the ability to audit access to these cabinets. Real-time data of inventory inside these cabinets can be obtained remotely.

  • Surgery asset Management

RFID solutions help reduce the occurrence of incidents such as overlooking surgical supplies including surgical kit components and sponges after an operation. Operating rooms make use of RFID tags for everything used during surgery. The patient is thoroughly scanned after the surgery, to ensure nothing has been left behind.

  • Asset Management

Asset management using RFID tags enables medical staff to quickly locate any item in the hospital. It saves a lot of time that would have been wasted on searching for one item among tens of thousands. It is especially helpful when trying to find assets for critical procedures.

  • Hand Washing

The hand washing protocol is strictly in place for medical staff working in hospitals. RFID-enabled hand washing stations record how many times and for how long each staff has washed their hands, with the help of RFID badges on their clothing. It ensures that every staff member follows the hand washing protocol.

  • Wait Time Monitoring

RFID solutions help monitor patient wait times in real-time. This technology allows staff to see the exact number of patients waiting in the queue and the length of the wait time of each.

  • Parking

RFID technology can be used to mark the entry and exit time of each vehicle in the parking space. The billing is calculated using the duration of the stay. This technology can be used for public and reserved parking. It can also be implemented as an automated, standalone system.

  • Access Control

RFID solutions allow controlled access by implementing entry and exit points of hospitals and also critical areas within the hospital. It allows monitoring who comes in and goes out of the hospital that helps maintain a high degree of security within premises. Unmanned access control also provides audit trail data required for access-restricted areas.

  • Facilities Management

RFID tags mark key service points that require frequent service maintenance. It helps engineering teams to identify which areas need to be serviced and how to perform it. RFID technology ensures that all equipment is serviced in a timely manner as per specifications given.

  • Laundry Management

Laundry management is also another major application where RFID is used in the healthcare sector. RFID helps manage this massive work task in healthcare facilities such as hospitals. This technology handles everything related to managing hospital laundry which includes, cleaning, ironing, folding, shipping, and storing.

  • Waste Management

Hospitals and healthcare facilities need to streamline the waste management process as they could contain all kinds of wastes including hazardous matter. RFID provides an excellent solution for waste management in the healthcare industry with systems in place to track and monitor waste removal.

Alternative to RFID

Barcodes are a common alternative to RFID technology. Below is a table which outlines some of the primary differences between RFID AND barcode technology.

RFIDBarcode
Can identify objects without line of sightNeed direct line of sight for scanning
Use of electromagnetic waves makes reading possible even when dirt, water, or oil is presentUses light to read data, thus being unable to read if dirty or damaged
Has a tag capacity between a few 100 bytes up to 8 KbytesCan handle only up to 32 digits
Multiple tags can be read simultaneously Can be read only individually
Data can be re-writtenData cannot be changed

Conclusion

There are many pros and cons to implementing RFID technology in the healthcare industry. Before deploying any new technology, it is vital to weigh the pros and cons of each method and decide which method is most suitable for the application under concern. RFID technology has made a huge impact in the healthcare industry and has changed the way hospitals manage operations. It has enhanced the productivity and efficiency of medical staff and improved the safety and security of patients.

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