RFID – a passive solution

by Sean Ruck, Contributing Editor | April 23, 2015
From the April 2015 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

To prevent abductions, a passive RFID system could include reader portals and egresses such as stairwells and elevators. If an infant tag is read in an unauthorized area such as an exit, the system software could forward alerts or even prompt the locking of doors.

Because passive RFID tags do not require a battery, they can be extremely small and durable, opening them up for use in areas where RTLS isn’t as convenient, such as the tracking of surgical tools. With an RFID tag attached to forceps or a pair of scissors, staff can use a reader to verify that all tools are present in a surgical kit, identify if something has been misplaced, and ensure that all used tools are accounted for after a surgery is complete, thereby guaranteeing nothing ever remains in the patient cavity inadvertently. The tags are sturdy enough to sustain the washing and sterilization process of the tools as well.

Similarly, such RFID tags are used to track blood products. Unlike larger RTLS tags, the RFID labels can be easily affixed to small vials or plastic bags filled with fluids, and are low-cost enough to be disposed of when the contents of the container are used or discarded.

RFID also offers redundancy when RTLS sensor batteries fail. In some cases the battery life of RTLS sensors can drop off quickly, and often unexpectedly, and assets tagged with dead devices simply cannot be located. Some health care facilities use RTLS technology augmented by passive RFID tags that are used to track smaller items and act as backups to the RTLS solution.

As more hybrid installations occur, software companies have been developing workflow-and asset management platforms to enable the retrieval of data from a variety of disparate systems, including RTLS and RFID, and to use that information to identify workflow and track exceptions, as well as issue necessary alerts to the appropriate employees if those exceptions occur.

For hospital management, the challenge is to determine specific needs and find a partner that can help them install a system that is customized not only for their existing requirements but is flexible enough to grow with technology innovations and with the hospital’s own operations, so that it will bring them value for many years to come.

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