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RFID: closed or open loop?

RFID applications can be defined as closed or open loop.

Closed loop is where the item to which the RFID tag is attached is continuously recycled in a process, and the cost of the tag is amortised over many process cycles--making it a cost efficient way of deploying RFID technology.

Generally, if RFID can be deployed in an application where the performance gains are relatively clear cut it is often not too difficult to establish a cost benefit and business case. Often the standards issue and the type of technology is immaterial, particularly if the pay back is within 12 to 18 months--often the case for closed loop applications.

Many healthcare applications can be identified that fall into this category, including asset management (medical equipment, IT, beds, chairs, trolleys etc), patient tracking and identification (for procedures and medication), security and access control (for patients and staff).

In the open loop case, as with retail supply chains, the aim is to attach the RFID tag to the item at the beginning of its journey or process and wave goodbye to it. Bar codes have been deployed in this mode for over three decades and their cost effectiveness is well established. This cannot currently be said of RFID open loop applications in general and trials are still in progress.

The healthcare sector needs to understand that different RFID technologies and Auto ID (remember Automatic Identification encompasses linear, 2D barcodes and many other allied technologies for capturing information automatically) both have their role to play in diverse applications.

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