Radio-frequency Identification (RFID) finds wide application in the field of healthcare and has brought about improvements in several areas from patient care to medical equipment and device management. The healthcare industry is one that has huge scope in going digital and any player can go digital by making use of medical data entry services. In fact, many healthcare organizations in the sector have already invested in digitization.
Everyone deserves good medical care and you can sit back and relax if the hospital is digitized. A digitized hospital is one where all the data is gathered at all important points, organized and stored for any future purposes.
What Is RFID?
Simply put, RFID is a technology that identifies and tracks individuals or objects automatically with the help of radio waves and electromagnetic fields. RFID tags are used in many industries, not just in healthcare. For example, in the automobile sector, an RFID tag can track the progress of any particular automobile during its production. In pharmaceuticals, RFID tagged products can be tracked through warehouses. Implanting RFID microchips in pets and livestock helps in positive identification of animals. As these tags can easily be attached to literally anything – from cash, clothing or any possessions, and even implanted on animals and humans, serious security and privacy concerns have been raised.
RFID in the Healthcare sector
- Medicines and pharmaceuticals – for its inventory tracking and authentication: The healthcare sector, as a whole, has an ever-growing and evolving supply of medicine that must be tracked in order to keep in stock for patients. Manual counts and barcodes take considerable time and this type of inventory tracking is not recommended, especially in hospitals and pharmaceuticals. Use of RFID allows the whole sector to save time and effort in counting the pharmaceuticals, ensuring accurate data and that the correct types and amounts of drugs are in stock. RFID tags inside or on each item or box can be read with RFID readers during the inventory process.
Tracking medical inventory with RFID has been in existence for many years and it is quite useful with almost any kind of items. The only challenge is to implement when tracking liquid-filled assets. RFID tags are readily available due to the demands from this sector.
Not just tracking; when it comes to authentication, use of RFID is very helpful. Counterfeiting is increasing due to high costs associated with prescribed and life-saving medicines. Many pharmaceutical companies opt for RFID as an authentication or anti-counterfeiting resource.
- Personnel and patient tracking: A hospital’s staffs and patients can easily be tracked using RFID technology; especially patient information can be accessed for review and update through a hand-held computer. Three primary reasons why RFID will be very helpful across hospitals are:
- Verify patient information
- Reduce wait times
- Locate patients
There are many instances where people have lost lives just because their medical records were switched accidentally. By using passive RFID tags or wristbands with any important information encoded on it such as “allergic to nuts” or even their date of birth will play a critical role in tracking the patient information from the moment he/she visited the hospital. This ensures the patient is not given wrong medications or sent to the wrong area.
Another type of RFID is Active RFID, which is used in hospitals for various reasons, mainly for tracking staffs and patients. Using active RFID in Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) helps in identifying issues in their workflow, mainly in the case of moving patients in and out quickly and efficiently.
- Surgical tools tracking: Surgical tools such as scissors, clamps, retractors, scalpels etc. are needed daily for surgeries and other medical needs, and they should be ready each day. Apart from ensuring that these tools are available, anyone involved needs to be sure they are clean, disinfected and ready to use. If not sterilized properly, the tools will carry bacteria from previous use.
Attaching these surgical tools with RFID tags can ensure that the tools were properly sterilized and even a properly implemented system could show the sterilization method followed for each tool. But it is to be noted that not all RFID tags can withstand the heat inside an autoclave, so it is important to select tags that can ensure that all tools are thoroughly cleaned and sterile.
In the case of disposable or single-use items such as gloves, gauze, plastic vials etc., RFID inlays will provide a cost-effective inventory solution as the real RFID tag can cost much for these relatively low cost items. Same is the case with laundry. Towels, blankets and sheets must be cleaned and disinfected after use, before a new patient comes in, and this must be closely monitored. Use of RFID laundry tags is an efficient way to ensure this.
- Asset tracking: Large equipment in hospitals – from bed to portable scanning or testing machines – are of high value and have high chances of getting misplaced or even go missing. Replacement of these equipment costs too much and at times, some of them may not be readily available in the market. Keeping track of each and every asset with RFID is the ideal way to prevent theft and misplacement – typically an active RFID with Real-Time Location System.
In this era of technological certainties and uncertainties, humans are relying more and more on the strength and safety of equipment. Use of RFID tags and readers in the healthcare sector is reaching new heights, thus improving and strengthening patient care.