The benefits and barriers to RFID technology in healthcare
Radio Frequency Identification, or RFID, has widespread usage across many industries. A lot of processes are simplified using RFID technology. Industries that use RFID include healthcare, retail, manufacturing, logistics, and automotive. Among all of these, RFID solutions have made significant improvements in the healthcare industry.
There are many applications in the healthcare industry that use RFID technology. RFID solutions provide many benefits in healthcare. It also comes with a few barriers. However, there are ways to overcome these barriers through appropriate planning and execution of processes.
Here is an overview of RFID, how it works, applications, benefits, drawbacks, and recommendations.
What is RFID technology?
RFID uses radio signals to collect data from an object and transfer it. It ensures automatic, real-time, and efficient capturing of data without human intervention. RFID solutions have enabled the connection of billions of healthcare items and are currently being used to identify, track, authenticate and engage each object to deliver the best possible patient care.
RFID is a fast-evolving technology that is known to be cost-effective and increase the efficiency in many processes in the healthcare systems. Hospitals, in particular, have adapted this technology and have seen some major benefits through it. A major portion of hospitals in the US and all over the world, have adapted to RFID technology by obtaining service of an RFID solutions provider.
The global RFID in healthcare market size was determined to be $2.58 billion in 2018. It is expected to expand at a CAGR of 22.4% by 2025. It shows how much of an impact RFID has had on the healthcare industry and how much it is expected to improve in the coming years. 
How does RFID work?
RFID works similar to barcode technology, except with a few highlighted characteristics. It consists of a reader, which could be a handheld or embedded to something like a door. The reader does not need direct line of sight to read tag data, whereas the barcode mechanism does require direct line of sight.
Once the reader reads the RFID tags, it collects data from it and sends it to a cloud-hosted software or local network, for processing. Only authorized personnel will have access to the information being transmitted for the RFID reader to the system.
The data collected from RFID connected with other applications enable functionalities including patient records, bed availability databases, and much more. RFID technology provides highly accurate data and real-time visibility.
The RFID tag is a lightweight item that can be attached to the wrist of patients and medical staff. It can even be attached to a baby’s ankle, which is especially useful for monitoring babies at pediatric and neonatal wards.
Each RFID system has a unique number. Its signals are transmitted over a secure wireless network, which enables real-time monitoring and location tracking. Alarms go off whenever the RFID tag goes beyond the defined perimeters.
There are two main types of RFID tags as follows:
- Active RFID
Active RFID works on battery-powered RFID tags that keep broadcasting their own signals. They can accurately track real-time location of objects. They also provide longer read ranges than passive RFID tags. However, active RFID tags are more expensive.
- Passive RFID
Passive RFID technology does not use an internal power source. Passive RFID tags are powered electromagnetic energy transmitted from an RFID reading device. Passive RFID is typically used in applications that involve access control, file tracking, smart labeling, and race timing. Passive RFID is an economical option to use in many industries including healthcare.
Applications of RFID in healthcare
RFID is used in a variety of applications and processes in the healthcare sector, including the following;
- Asset tracking
- Sterile services tracking
- Tracking reusable PPE
- Implant tracking with smart cabinets
- Baby tagging
- GS1 asset labeling
- Temperature and humidity monitoring
- Theater inventory management
- Medical staff safety
- Patient safety
- Access control
- Hospital visitors tracking
Why use RFID?
Hospitals and other healthcare facilities use RFID technology due to its multitude of benefits including the following:
- Improved patient safety
- Manage surgical tools
- Improved patient workflows
- Improved asset management
- Easy management of support staff
- Automate supply chain management and replenishment
- Manage locations of medical devices, notes, and IT equipment
- Authenticate quality processes and sterilization procedures
The benefits of RFID technology in different applications in healthcare
Here is how RFID benefits within different applications in the healthcare sector.
- Asset management
Asset management is an essential functionality in healthcare, given the high costs involved in purchasing medical equipment. It helps prevent tampering and theft of valuable medical assets in hospitals. RFID solutions provide medical asset management by providing real-time location of equipment.
RFID technology can also help find the location of a specific piece of medical equipment fast, rather than spending time trying to find it in various rooms across different departments. Large hospitals have several floors with a large number of medical equipment, which can be hard to locate. RFID makes finding these equipment a seamless process.
- Infant safety
The safety of newborn babies is a major concern in the US and all over the world. There have been many incidents of babies gone missing, either intentionally or being accidentally switched at birth. RFID solutions enable monitoring and tracking of babies in maternity, neonatal, and pediatric wards. The RFID tag is attached to the baby’s wrist or ankle, while a similar tag with a unique identifier is attached to the mother’s wrist. It ensures that the babies are paired with their mothers and not switched by mistake.
- Patient safety and efficient care
The improved efficiency in patient care is one of the major benefits of RFID solutions implemented in hospitals. RFID technology paired with cloud-based software can improve turnaround time by about 25 minutes in hospitals. It can make a significant impact on critical situations where every second can mean the difference between life and death.
RFID solutions also streamline the entire process of patient care, starting from registration to surgery and postoperative recovery. Patient locations are also tracked in real-time to ensure their safety. Alerts are sent to the relevant staff, whenever a patient goes beyond his permitted boundaries, if any. Real-time tracking and monitoring ensures patient safety in hospitals.
- Inventory control
RFID technology assists in managing the inventory in a hospital. It ensures the availability of medicine, medical devices, and other equipment. It is vital to have everything in hand in a hospital, especially when required to conduct any critical or emergency procedures. The last thing the medical staff needs to know is that the hospital has run out of essential surgical supplies or has malfunctioning equipment. From heart pumps to bed pans, everything in the inventory is controlled and monitored via RFID solutions. It also helps track medical supplies including the ordering and sorting of prescription drugs via the system.
- Quality control
Even with an advanced inventory control system, it is still essential to have an advanced quality control mechanism to provide the best possible services to patients. Patients need to be given the correct medication in the required dosages. RFID tags allow this by providing the relevant medication and dosage details to medical personnel so that they can make informed decisions.
- Monitoring critical systems
The healthcare industry involves the use of many critical systems from medical devices to surgery equipment. Each of these devices and equipment plays a vital role in providing high-quality medical services. RFID tags ensure reduced errors and better tracking of equipment in laboratories such as test tubes and blood vials.
It also efficiently and effectively manages surgical tools during operations. It ensures that nothing, not even a sponge or clamp, is left inside the patient during the operation.
It also ensures the safety of items stored in hospital refrigerators by monitoring the temperature and humidity inside these. It is vital for tracking and monitoring tissue and blood samples, or medical devices with expirations dates. It is because all of this requires it to be stored in specific temperature and humidity levels. Therefore, it is common to find RFID technology applied in medical research facilities where human tissues and other elements are safely stored and monitored.
- Personnel management
The use of RFID solutions in managing medical personnel is on the rise. It has managed to make a positive difference in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. RFID solutions in healthcare personnel management has translated to more efficient use of manpower in this industry, especially in hospitals. RFID also helps nurses to better assist surgeons by tracking and counting surgical tools and equipment.
Barriers to RFID technology in healthcare
Although RFID solutions show positive results in the healthcare industry, there are still a few barriers to this technology. These barriers are as follows:
- Implementation of this technology includes technical and economic challenges.
- It has tracking limitations due to human error.
- Reusable tags are higher in costs while disposable tags cost more in the long run. Tags, readers, and other technical devices in RFID solutions add up to a high cost.
- RFID readers can provide false reads due to interference in the electromagnetic field that is caused by other medical equipment and metallic objects.
- Security and privacy concerns including intentional misuse and inappropriate collection of data.
Recommendations to overcome these barriers
Here are the recommendations to overcome the barriers to RFID.
- Conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis before implementing RFID solutions.
- Test RFID solutions in a real-life small scale healthcare setting to confirm that the technology can serve the intended purpose.
- Conduct proper training sessions to medical staff so that they know how to accurately use this system for the intended purpose. It helps minimize human errors too.
- Weigh the benefits and risks of implementing this solution and implementation of proper security measures to reduce the risks.
- Educate medical staff of the existing security and privacy concerns in RFID solutions to minimize its impact on data.
RFID solutions are able to make an immense difference across various processes in the healthcare industries. More and more hospitals across the world are adapting to this technology due to the many advantages that it brings along. Some of the major benefits of RFID technology in the healthcare industry are asset management, effective patient care and safety, inventory management, medical staff tracking, and monitoring critical systems in hospitals.
The proper implementation of RFID solutions in the healthcare industry can give fantastic results in terms of efficiently and effectively managing various processes.