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RFID and the Future of Healthcare

Much has been heard and said about the use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology in the healthcare setting; the issue has been discussed and debated since the science found its way into hospitals to be used to track patients, medicines and equipments. In spite of all the negative publicity that’s been accorded to RFID, the technology has done more than its share in augmenting the care that’s offered to patients, especially those hampered by other disabilities and chronic conditions. Here are some issues in the medical field RFID can address:

  • The horror stories we hear about the wrong drugs being administered or incorrect treatment being provided to patients is enough to make us wary of hospitals, no matter how ill we are. But thanks to RFID, error-free patient, treatment and drug identification and verification is now a reality. RFID tags on patients allow electronic storage of information that allows healthcare practitioners to provide the right treatment and administer the right dose of medicine at the right times. Tags also carry the patient’s medical history which can give doctors information on the allergies that the patient has and the previous treatments that the patient has received.

  • Hospitals are now reducing their inventory and logistics expenses and also avoiding losses due to lost and misplaced shipments by using RFID to track their medicine and equipment supplies. Supply chains are also being equipped with the technology to prevent the counterfeiting of drugs.

  • RFID tags are being used to set off alarms and issue warning signals when something untoward happens – like when Alzheimer’s patients wander outside the limits of their home or when wrong dosages of medicines are administered. RFID tags can also act as reminders of important medical procedures or even dosage timings.

  • Some RFID tags are being used as sensors to warn clinicians of changes in temperature and humidity that control the storage of sensitive drugs.

  • Talking RFID tags are now being used to help visually-impaired patients with their medicine dosages – the tag reads out the name, dosage and time the medicine should be taken.

While the proponents of RFID cite these and other advantages as reason enough for a more widespread adoption of the technology in hospitals and other healthcare settings around the world, there are dissidents who raise concerns about the radio frequency waves interfering with other vital and life-saving equipment that are regularly in use in all medical settings.

A new study by RFID consulting and systems integration company BlueBean in conjunction with the Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis has found that passive RFID can be safely used in a hospital environment. Hopefully this piece of news will herald a wider use of RFID in all aspects of healthcare, across the world.

This post was contributed by Heather Johnson, who writes on the subject of Cruise Nursing. She invites your feedback at heatherjohnson2323 at gmail dot com.


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RFID technologies can be particularly useful in the operating room. My research for "The Future of Medicine - Megatrends in Healthcare" showed that a major problem in many hospitals is not having the right instruments and equipment in the right OR for the right patient. RFID can assure the operating team in advance that they have what they need. Further it helps the OR suite managers be assured that the patient is in the right room, that the needed surgeon, anesthiologist and nurse are present and that the room has been cleaned. Since RFID can help with logistics it can also assist with assuring that premedications have in fact be given such as prophylactic antibiotics. These devices can assure the operating team that all sponges and instruments are out before the wound is closed. Overall, RFID technologies can reduce costs, improve productiviity, assist staff and assure a safer and higher quality environment and outcome.

Welcome to the site, Stephen!

I am glad to read RFID is living up to its potential, because it seemed to struggle to find its niche for a while. A colleague referred to it once as a solution looking for a problem.

Despite the research Heather refers to, tuning RFID and using the right flavour is still key to its success. In addition, there is no doubt that it will be carried along by the growing wave of wirelessness, which as I have said before on this blog, is like to transform healthcare delivery.

Thanks for your comment.

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