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Medical Uses for RFID Products

There are a lot of interesting ways to use RFID products in the medical field. However now that the tags, themselves, can be made small; pharmaceuticals, lab samples, wristbands and other medical equipment can be tracked and traced, and data entry can be automated. Thus, RFID products in the medical field are aiding in the elimination of medical mistakes.

There are two types of RFID product tags widely used in medical applications.  The first are HF (High Frequency) tags, which have short read ranges (up to 3 inches).  These tags can be used to tag tissue samples, blood and other critical fluids.  They work well in proximity to liquids and human tissue.  UHF RFID products have longer read ranges, but unless they are properly engineered, can be detuned by proximity to tissue, fluids and metals.   These RFID products are used to track and locate critical medical devices, manage inventories of medical items, and, sometimes for tracking and identifying patients.  The vast majority of these RFID products are compatible with worldwide standards and are easily deployed, because of their compatibility with widely available and competitively priced RFID readers.

One of the fastest growing applications for RFID product tags is to track of the pharmaceuticals and ensure their authenticity.  Application of RFID products to solve the problem of counterfeit drugs will dramatically increase the effectiveness of anti-counterfeiting efforts.  This will improve U.S. drug safety.

In the medical equipment field, RFID product tags can be used to track and locate medical devices. The use of RFID products on equipment and RTLS (Real time locating systems), enables hospital staff to rapidly locate critical medical devices.  When you need a defribulator, you need to locate it fast!  This enhances patient safety, and can reduce the amount of equipment investment needed.   Additionally these tags can be used to inventory equipment and consumables used in an operation, including scalpels, sponges, clamps and other surgical equipment.  At the end of an operation everything can be automatically accounted for.   Finally, applying RFID products to assets aids medical institutions in automating inventory management, reducing overhead and minimizing duplicate supplies of critical inventory.

RFID product tags can also be used in patient identification. These RFID products, in the form of ID cards, wrist or ankle bands, or labels applied to patient records, can greatly aid in assuring that the right procedures and medications are applied.  In addition, the RFID products enable data system to call the correct record for the patient who is scanned, and aids in the reducing errors associated with data entry.  Finally, RFID products can be used to track patient movements within a facility.  Patients with afflictions such as Alzheimer’s, can be tracked within a facility to ensure they do not get lost or enter an area where they might harm themselves.

Laboratories can use RFID products to track tissue or fluid samples.  As samples move through various preparation steps, they can be automatically tracked, reducing errors from data entry or mishandling. Samples that arrive at the pathologist for analysis will automatically have the patient record and the indication called to the computer screen to ensure proper association of the sample with the patient.

Finally, drug discovery firms are thinking of ways to use RFID products to automate the tracking and location of the millions of proprietary pharmaceutical compounds they have in their libraries.  These very valuable assets are difficult to inventory, but it is essential that it be done with a very high level of accuracy.  RFID products are perceived as an enabling technology for the automation of this task, but the high density and small size of these samples still present challenges.

The implementation of RFID products in the medical field has raised some concerns related to the confidentiality of medical information.  In the vast majority of cases, RFID product tags are used only as ‘license plates’ for the items they tag.  That is, they contain only an identifying number, and all the ‘human readable’ information about an asset, drug, tissue sample or patient, resides in a database on a computer that is linked to the RFID product via that license plate number.   Thus, security for the information resides in the data system, rather than in the RFID product or the transmissions between the RFID product and the RFID reader.  The FDA has outlined four components for ensuring medical information security.  Information must be kept confidential, it must be accurate and complete and it is available and accessible by following the prescribed process.  By storing this information in a computer based system, where security measures are already well established, the use of RFID products in medical processes does in not put at risk the security of this confidential information.

The implementation of RFID products in medical applications is reaching maturity in many areas.  Reduction of data entry errors, automation of work and information flows, improvement of asset and consumable inventories and better association of treatment plans with patients are all benefits of RFID products in the medical field.  The results are better patient outcomes and lower costs.  It is clear that established applications will continue to grow and that new applications will emerge for RFID products in the medical arena.