Healthcare, as an industry, is becoming more and more invested in RFID technology; so much so, that recent market research has revealed there will be exponential growth of RFID technology in that industry by 2021. One of the reasons that RFID is expanding considerably in the industry is the sheer number of applications that can benefit. In hospitals that have been outfitted with the technology, RFID is present in many forms – from tracking of surgical tools to tracking patients and staff.
Below are 7 common RFID applications being deployed in hospitals all over the world.
Medicine & Pharmaceuticals
Tracking inventory with RFID can be achieved with almost any types of item, but, RFID systems can be particularly challenging to implement when tracking liquid-filled assets. RFID tags with the ability to track these assets are becoming more readily available, largely due to the demand from the pharmaceutical industry.
Hospitals have an ever-growing and changing supply of medicine that must be tracked in order to keep plenty on hand for their patients. Typical inventory tracking solutions (as with many industries) involve manual counts and barcodes which takes time for staff members to complete. Using RFID can reduce the amount of time spent counting, allowing pharmaceuticals to be counted more often, ensuring accurate data and that the correct types and amounts of drugs are on hand. RFID tags inside or on each bottle or box can be read with handheld readers during the inventory process, or constantly inventoried through fixed readers and shelf antennas.
Some hospitals and pharmaceutical manufacturers also use RFID tags for authentication purposes. Counterfeiting is on the rise due to high costs frequently associated with prescription and life-saving medications; so, many companies have opted for using RFID as an authentication or anti-counterfeiting resource. This is accomplished by placing an RFID tag on or within a medicine bottle or box and encrypting it with specific information so that hospitals and pharmacies can be verify that the medicines they sell are authentic. Tamper-proof RFID labels are also used in these applications to ensure quality.
Patient & Staff Tracking
Currently, hospitals are using passive RFID technology as well as instances of active RFID to track patients and staff throughout hospitals.
Patients and staff are outfitted with RFID tags in hospitals primarily for three reasons:
- To verify patient information.
- Reduce wait times and bottlenecks.
- To locate patients.
Passive RFID systems are frequently used for maintaining and verifying patient records on wristbands. These RFID wristbands have patient information printed on them, and patient records are stored on the tag’s chip or associated with the tag’s ID through a database. Information encoded on the wristband’s tag is an optimal way of identifying patients because it can help in emergency situations by ensuring patients are not given the wrong medication or sent to the wrong area in the hospital. Lives have been lost due to accidents where patients’ files were switched. Important information encoded on the wristband such as “Allergic to nuts” or “DOB 7/29/80” could play a critical role in the patient’s outcome.
Active RFID is used in a few different ways in hospitals, but mostly for applications involving tracking staff and patients. Recently, Hospitals have used active RFID in Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) to identify problems in their workflow, mainly in order to move patients in and out quicker and more efficiently. In these instances, patients and staff have RTLS badges and the system identifies how long they have been in certain areas and reports that data to the management team.
RTLS is also implemented to track newborn babies. Research shows that, between 1965 and May 2017, 135 infants have been stolen from healthcare facilities in the United States alone*. Infants are not just stolen from random places in the facility, but trusted areas like the mother’s room, the nursery, and the pediatric hall. In order to lower the risk of infant abduction, hospitals place RTLS tags on all infant’s legs in order to monitor and track each child. If a child ventures too close to an exit door, an alarm will sound and the door will lock; additionally, if a tag is taken off a child a different alarm sounds immediately indicating the location of the child.
Tool Tracking with Sterilization & Autoclave/Returnable Asset Tracking
Surgical tools like scalpels, scissors, clamps, and retractors are needed for surgeries daily; so, this equipment needs to always be on hand, clean, disinfected, and ready to use. Unfortunately, not having the right surgical equipment on hand is the least dangerous situation caused by not tracking these tools. Each year, studies show that surgical instruments in hospitals are found to carry bacteria from previous use, either due to not being sterilized or not being sterilized properly. Not only could tracking these items with RFID tags ensure that each tool was sterilized prior to use – a properly implemented system could shed light on sterilization methods for individual tools.
On-metal RFID tags embedded in or applied on surgical equipment allows them to be tracked for inventory purposes and ensures that they went through the disinfecting process of the autoclave. A few types of autoclaves exist that use different sterilization methods; by tracking each tool individually, hospitals can ensure that all tools went through the proper autoclave specified by the manufacturer. Of note, not all RFID tags can survive the autoclave process; so, it is key to choose one that can to ensure that all equipment is properly cleaned and sterile.
Inventory Tracking/Out of Stocks
Items like gauze, disposable exam paper, boxes of gloves, and plastic vials are all important single-use inventory items in hospitals that must be kept on hand. Because they are single-use and relatively low cost, using high-cost RFID tags to track them isn’t feasible. RFID inlays can provide a cost-effective inventory solution for these single-use items that can be stored in inventory rooms, shelving units, or in vending machines outfitted with RFID.
When tracking single-use items, some hospitals prefer to keep record of the staff member that used the items to ensure that the inventory is used properly, and to reduce careless waste or theft. This is an instance where tracking personnel using RFID tags on badges can be used in conjunction with an inventory tracking application. RFID-enabled vending machines, and other similar equipment, can be setup to require an RFID-enabled badge to be read before releasing the inventory, and the system can be configured to send daily or monthly reports on inventory per staff member.
Hospital beds and miscellaneous portable testing machines are high-value items in hospitals that can occasionally go missing or get misplaced. Keeping track of these items is critical in hospitals because the replacement cost is very high. In addition, some of these assets are not readily available and would take time to replace. Using an RFID system is an ideal way to keep tracking of these assets within the building.
Because of the expensive and critical nature of these assets, if an RFID system is deployed, hospitals typically use an active RFID Real-Time Location System (RTLS) to know where they are at all times. Some hospitals implement the system to read only certain areas or rooms, while others setup their systems to cover entire hallways or floors.
Access Control/People Tracking
Security is another facet of people tracking that hospitals use to limit access to certain rooms or areas in order to prevent people from wandering around the facility. With this type of system, the staff members must wave or tap their RFID-enabled badges in front of door readers in order to gain access. Not only does this prevent unauthorized access to restricted areas, but it provides patients, medicine, and medical equipment with a level of security that deters theft or damage.
Towels, blankets, and sheets are just few examples of linens and textiles that reside in almost every hospital room. Each of these items must be washed and disinfected for use before the next patient is admitted. An efficient way to keep track of these items, as well as ensure that they are sterile, is by using a system with RFID laundry tags.
This application is similar to the surgical tool application because there are two aspects involved, keeping inventory and ensuring cleanliness.