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What is RFID technology in healthcare?

What is RFID technology in healthcare

What Is RFID Technology In Healthcare

Modern technology has expanded to streamline many processes in healthcare. Wireless communication methods and transmission using radio waves have all contributed towards the existence of simple data exchange methods. Some of these popular methods include barcodes, near-field communication (NFC), and radio frequency identification (RFID).

Here we take a look at what sort of a role RFID technology plays in healthcare and how it contributed towards the improvement of processes in this sector.

What is RFID?

RFID technology works on tags, which is the most important component of this system. A tag is embedded to an object and radio waves are able to track that tag and capture the data in it. RFID is primarily used in the healthcare sector along with many other industries. Some of these industries include agriculture, livestock, manufacturing, retail, pet care, and automotive. 

RFID is quite similar to how barcode technology works, with a few differences. One of the most significant differences is that RFID technology works faster than barcode technology. RFID uses radio signals to track product information while the other method requires a product to be scanned via a barcode scanner.

RFID architecture

RFID systems architecture in healthcare typically consists of the following components:

  • RFID tags

RFID tags can be active or passive. Active RFID tags have their own batteries and can work in a large range. Passive RFIDS don’t have an internal power source and work in short ranges. An RFID tag is embedded to a hospital asset, such as a wristband or badge, for tracking patients and staff. 

  • RFID readers

RFID readers are typically installed in hospital corridors, and wards. These readers are able to identify the location of RFID tags and send the information collected from these tags, to the cloud gateway.  

  • Firewall

The firewall ensures secure transmission of data to the cloud server.

  • Streaming data processor

The streaming data processor transfers information about patients, medical staff, and hospital assets, to a data lake.

  • Data lake

A data lake stores all the information about tracked staff, patients, and hospital assets sent by the RFID tags.

  • Big data warehouse

The big data warehouse is where preprocessed and filtered information is stored for further analysis to enhance staff workflow efficiency. It can also help analyze the utilization of hospital assets and movements of patients.

  • RFID tracking software business logic

This involves processing hospital asset requests and critical events such as a patient leaving the hospital without following proper discharge procedures. It provides important details on the location and movements of patients, staff members, and hospital visitors.

  • Staff application

The staff application allows hospital staff and device technicians to view where hospital assets are and request them for use. It also enables them to get details on the whereabouts of patients and alerts on suspicious behavior. The application allows supervisors to view the locations of hospital staff and get insights on workflow optimization.

  • Admin application

The admin application allows users to view the list of tracked patients, hospital visitors, medical staff, monitored assets, and new assets. It also allows the editing of vital data on tracked assets and people.

What is RFID technology in healthcare?

RFID solutions are used in a majority of applications and processes of the healthcare industry. Essential features of RFID technology have enabled it to fit ideally to the services provided in this sector. Below are the applications and benefits of RFID in healthcare.

  • Patient tracking and history records

Patients wear an RFID-enabled wristband that can help hospital staff keep track of their locations and movements. This wristband generally has important information about the patient including name, medical history, and allergies. It helps doctors to get to know a patient’s allergies to any medication, especially when they have been admitted for a long time. It also provides crucial information regarding the patient’s medical history that could prove to be critical when undergoing surgery. 

  • Medicine & pharmaceutical tracking

RFID solutions enable easy tracking of medicine and pharmaceutical products. The system provides details on expiry of medicine and stock levels, including the current stock count. It is vital because hospitals have critical products, including medicines that need to be readily available, especially during emergencies. Stock levels of surgical supplies including gloves, masks, and syringes are also tracked and monitored to help check their availability and to get them when stock levels go down.

  • Equipment tracking & inventory management

Tracking machines and various equipment used in hospitals is crucial for the administration. It helps them know where the vehicles and equipment are placed at any given time and also aids in asset management. Hospital assets need to constantly be in ready-to-use mode and RFID solutions help track these either within or outside of the premises. It is also beneficial in inspecting devices in the operating theater regularly to prevent the occurrence of any unplanned breakdowns.


  • Predict patient flow with RFID tags

RFID technology helps hospitals analyze data and predict patient flow, plan device purchase and medical supply, identify the hospital’s staff load that includes doctors and nurses. The results of this analysis can help the management alter the workflow of the hospital staff, surgery schedules, and patient treatment plans. 

  • Infant safety

RFID solutions help ensure infant safety by preventing abductions and accidental switching of newborns. An RFID-enabled band is tied around the baby’s wrist or ankle which can help identify the location and movements. It can also track infants that move around the birthing unit. A similar wristband is given to the mother that pairs with the baby’s. It helps prevent accidental switching of babies in neonatal or maternity wards. 

  • Temperature monitoring for supply storage

Hospitals require adequate storage of various items to use during surgical procedures and for other purposes. An RFID solutions provider can deploy a combination of RFID tags and Wi-Fi to measure humidity and temperature for tracking essential medical equipment. 

In 2017, Covenant Specialty Hospitals in Lubbock, Texas, deployed this technology with sensors to monitor humidity and temperature levels in hospital refrigerators that store medication, vaccines, and food. These RFID tags also monitored temperature and humidity levels in surgery units. Before deploying RFID technology, the team at Covenant Specialty Hospital used to check the temperature manually every day. In this system, the tags read the temperature values and transmit this information in real-time over the network to cloud-based software. [1]

  • Staff tracking

Medical staff wear RFID-enabled wristbands or badges that can show their locations and interactions to the relevant medical supervisors. It helps medical supervisors track the whereabouts of doctors and nurses in case of emergencies. RFID technology also helps management to detect bottlenecks in hospital workflow and reduce overwork conditions for specific staff members.

  • Sterilization and tracking of surgical equipment

RFID solutions enable staff to not only track surgical tools but also ensure that they are adequately sterilized. Improper sterilization of surgical tools can lead to contamination in patients. Tools that are not cleaned and disinfected after every use could have bacteria infestation. Therefore, it is vital to track the sterilization of surgical tools and monitor it regularly. 

  • Hospital visitors tracking

Hospital administrative staff can track and monitor the visitors within its premises. It prevents unauthorized access to critical zones including inventories and operation theaters. It also helps ensure the safety of patients. Visitors are also mapped to patients so that an alert is sent to hospital administration if they are not identified to be near the patient or in hospital common spaces.

  • Patient-doctor interactions control

RFID solutions collect data on interactions between patients and hospital staff to ensure that patient-care is provided in a timely manner and with the correct frequency. It is especially relevant for behavioral health facilities.

  • Tracking analytics and reporting

Tracking systems analyze the information that is collected regarding hospital asset demand and duration, movements of patients, medical staff, and visitors, and their interactions with each other. This data can help identify patterns in people’s behavior and asset usage trends to plan on how to improve staff workflow, security measures, asset availability, and bed allocation. A dashboard provides visualized information on trends for responsible hospital personnel such as head of department and supply chain managers.

Barriers to RFID technology in healthcare

The following are the barriers to implementing RFID solutions:

  • It involves high costs.
  • It requires technical knowledge of setting up related equipment.
  • There is room for human errors to occur resulting in the presentation of inaccurate data.
  • It can be impacted by interference in the electromagnetic field by surrounding equipment.
  • It poses security and privacy concerns over intentional misuse and unauthorized disclosure of data.

Investments and cost drivers in RFID solutions for healthcare

Here are the investment factors and cost drivers in implementing RFID technology in the healthcare industry.

The functionality scope of the RFID system could increase its costs. The cost of combining components such as patient and staff tracking will be more than the cost of a patient tracking system. The implementation of advanced analytics and the use of active RFID tags over passive RFID tags will also increase the total cost of implementation.

Other factors that can increase the costs of implementing RFID technology are as follows:

  • Using ready-made components such as AWS IoT to build the tracking system.
  • Embedding RFID tags into medical devices and equipment.
  • Setting up of equipment related to RFID including RFID readers.
  • Cost of cloud-based services such as for data analytics.

Conclusion

RFID technology is very much in use in many hospitals in the US and across the world. It has many benefits that prove to be useful to simplify processes in the healthcare sector. The healthcare industry has seen immense improvements in its processes due to the deployment of RFID solutions in healthcare facilities such as hospitals. RFID solutions continue to grow for the betterment of the healthcare industry.

 

References

[1] https://healthtechmagazine.net/article/2021/01/how-rfid-solutions-improve-patient-safety-and-hospital-workflow

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