Future of RFID in Hospital Management


Dr. N.S. Shibu
MBA, M.Phil(Mgmt), PhD(Mgmt)
Head, Department of Management Studies
Bharathidasan University - College
Lalgudi, Tamilnadu State (South India), Pin code–621 601


Hospitals are the place where even a small mistake can cost a human life. Human beings are most prone to errors. We need to minimize the human intervention so that the chances of error are minimized. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology is just starting to make inroads into healthcare. Now a days, RFID (Radio Frequency Identification Devices) is the best technology available which provide a better solution to health care industry by reducing medication errors and improving patient care. Applications for radio frequency identification technology in the healthcare field seem to grow rapidly. RFID is also beginning to see use to provide more extensive patient identification than traditional bar coding can, and to track and locate capital equipment within the hospital. In years to come, RFID could be used for a variety of applications, including tracking and matching blood for transfusions, tracking pharmaceuticals, and combating the counterfeiting of medical products. RFID system capabilities are powerful and accurate capture data. They can easily be integrated into the hospital's wireless infrastructure that many hospitals already have in place. People are aware of barcoding, but RFID is only at the edge of their awareness. In this paper I have tried to find out area in health care management that can be accelerated using RFID.

What is RFID?

Radio Frequency Identification is a wireless system, relying on storing and remotely retrieving data using devices called RFID tags or transponders. These tags automatically identify, track and manage objects, people or animals. RFID is kind of auto id systems like bar codes, smart cards, voice recognization etc. RFID uses radiofrequency tags attached to people or objects to provide identification, tracking, and security. In healthcare, basic RFID is already being used to track patients for anti-elopement and antiabduction programs.

How does it work?

A low-frequency, passive, magnetically-coupled RFID system is made up of two parts—a reader and tag.

The object to be tracked is affixed with a RFID tag or transponder. The reader is kept at some distance like entrance or door frame through which object tracked had to be pass, emits radio signals. When the object containing RFID tag comes in range of radio signal emitted by reader, the tag is activated and it starts sending the information stored in it in forms of radio signal. The reader captures those signals, decoded it and sends it to host computers. In both the reader and tag, the antenna can be sized and shaped in different ways. Because of the small size of the tag, RFID tag can be designed to fit almost any situation. Placement of the tag and reader is now no longer critical since there is no contact or line of sight is required, the RFID system allows great freedom of movement.

Types of RFID tags

RFID cards are also known as "proximity" or "proxy" cards. They are segregated into two major classification: Passive and Active.


Pure Passive or reflective RFID tags have no internal power source. The lack of an onboard power supply means that the device can be quite small:commercially available products exist that can be embedded in a sticker, or under the skin in the case of low frequency RFID tags. They are small and inexpensive but do not have a good range. Systems using passive tags are rapidly entering the pharmaceutical market to aid the fight against the circulation of counterfeit drugs.


Active tags, which contain an internal battery and a radio transceiver. They can both read and write data on the chips they contain, can be read over longer distances and enable the development of potentially more sophisticated applications. Active tags are typically much more reliable (e.g. fewer errors) than passive tags.

Where is it used?

RFID systems can be used almost anywhere. Some current uses of RFID are:

Inventory control, Access control, Animal identification (from cows to birds), Waste management, Laboratory analysis, Time and place dataloging, Meat Processing, Vehicle identification, Ticketing, Fishery Management, Automatic Guided Vehicle positioning, Asset tracking and many more...

RFID In Healthcare Industry: The Advantages

Compared to other identification technologies, our

RFID systems offer many advantages:

  • Tags can be hidden (embedded) in most materials
  • No batteries needed (in passive tags)
  • Different shapes and sizes
  • No line-of-sight required
  • No wear
  • Tags can be read even if covered with dirt or submerged
  • Tags are almost indestructible
  • Unalterable permanent serial code prevents tampering
  • more cost-effective treatment
  • higher quality medical care and
  • Improved patient safety (as a result of reducing undesired medication effects).
  • RFID tags emit signals that can be scanned simultaneously

RFID In Healthcare Industry: The Requirements

Goal of medication administration is: "Right patient, right drug, right dose, right route, and right time." A Hospital management requires:

* Tracking pharmaceuticals from the manufacturer, distributor and pharmacy to the point of administering medication to the patient,

* Tracking movable equipment, furniture, medical devices and other high-value items both to provide ready access when needed and to reduce losses,

* Identifying the location of caregivers in hospitals and other institutions to ensure the most efficient assignment in response to emergencies,

* Ensuring the proper identification of laboratory specimens, including biopsy samples and containers of blood or urine to reduce medical errors,

* Tracking patients — both for the purposes of redundant identification prior to the administration of medications or surgery and for protecting infants,  Alzheimer's patients, and others with special vulnerabilities,

* Managing controlled substances, pathogens and other materials that pose a public health risk.

RFID In Healthcare Industry: For Patient Care and Tracking

The patient safety can be ensured using active RFID tags. By implanting a RFID chip with a patient's medical record, hospitals and emergency workers can immediately gain access to an ill or injured person's medical history regardless of location. Implanted chips are impossible to lose, which could reduce the chances of information theft.

An active RFID tags can be slipped onto the patient's wrist by embedding it inside a waterproof waistband. The RFID tag inside a waistband can be programmed according to the location of the patient. It ensures to maximize comfort, safety and convenience across a patient's length of stay in the hospital.

The tagging of both patients and staff in hospitals is now the subject of increasing debate, in part because it could facilitate not only the identification of individuals but the tracking of their movements. In an emergency, an appropriate clinician could be more easily located and summoned on the basis of their proximity.

Technology developers have also been working on systems to track patients, such as those with conditions that impair mental functioning, who could become confused or lost. An active RFID tag will broadcast its location and announce 'Here I am.'

By using passive RFID tags, medication can be tracked in real-time from the hospital's pharmacy to intensive care and individual patients. Patients can be tagged with unique codes, reducing or eliminating medical errors such as the administration of the wrong medication or surgical procedure. Medication will be matched digitally to the individual patient by checking the reference codes on an RFID bracelet worn by the patient.

Using handheld scanners, the nursing staff can read these codes, link them to the patient data on file in the hospital's IT system and gain instant access to detailed information on the patient, displayed on a screen. By gaining the ability to track and match medication throughout the organization in real-time, the hospital aims to reduce the risk of any dispensing errors. This auto-id system is also designed to record all medication in the patient's file automatically, including details about type, quantity and time of medication. This uses a passive tag under the skin, which interacts with a database containing patient-specific information.

The unique needs of hospitals for identifying and tracking blood samples, inventory, as well as supplies and lab specimens, demand the highest levels of accuracy and reliability. The National Institute of Medicine estimates that 100,000 patients die each year due to medical errors, including mislabeled pharmaceuticals or blood types.

Healthcare companies are charged with guarding highly sensitive, valuable information and must meet regulatory compliance, making these environments quick to adopt RFID applications. The increased accuracy afforded by RFID solutions can help reduce errors and security breaches that occur in any phase of records management.

"International studies reveal that approximately every 20th patient suffers an adverse drug effect, and about 55 percent of these cases could be avoided, " said Dr. Michael Hartmann, director of the pharmacy at Jena University Hospital and member of the Council of Europe Committee of Experts on pharmaceutical issues. "We have selected SAP technology to expand our existing SAP Net Weaver environment and to enable the innovative use of RFID. This technology will enhance the security of our drug supply chain and reduce potential adverse drug effects". RFID is very important for linking the supply chain the patient.

For example, if a patient has an adverse reaction to a drug, it can be traced back to the offending batch, which can be examined to see if a counterfeit drug was the cause. Assumptions can be made that lead to a patient being given someone else's medication or to sample pots being mislabeled. RFID technology could play a part in putting this right.

An area where patients might start to feel the benefits of RFID is in the tagging of items on crash trolleys, where a diverse range of equipment and drugs must be in place and ready to use to deliver timely care to patients suffering cardiac arrest. Compared with traditional barcode systems, RFID would improve efficiency by shortening scan times and ultimately improve the quality of a patient's treatment. With barcoding, we still need to read each item, so RFID is better in this instance.

Even RFID is a better solution in infant protection. Systems to prevent baby infant abduction are pretty standard. Every maternity ward has a kind of RFID system that locks the elevator if a tag goes near it. RFID contact-less ID systems for door locks are among the many forms of the technology that are common. Even when the mix up is uncovered moments after the mistake is made, this can cause heightened levels of anger and dissatisfaction with the services rendered.

Any mother-baby mix up is a potential liability to the hospital. This scenario can be guaranteed not to happen when staff follows a procedure of reading the baby's tag and then reading the mother's tag and re-confirming the match that was initiated at the birth New functions, such as the ability to locate staff and patients, as well as devices, are very exciting.


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Source: E-mail January 17, 2011


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