RFID Tags in Healthcare

The Use of RFID Tags in Healthcare

A radio frequency identification tag (RFID) is a microchip that is structured to be attached to an object or person which will allow it to be tracked. “Radio frequency identification is an automatic identification method that relies on storing and remotely retrieving data using RFID tags or transporters. An RFID reader can extract location and product description data from a tagged item every 250 milliseconds” (Chordas, 2006). The very first RFID tag was invented in 1969 and patented in 1973 by a man named Mario Cardullo and he ran a company called Comserv. It has an antenna and a chip stored in it which sends and receives signals from an RFID scanner which then reads the information. The actual size of the RFID tag can range from as small as a grain of rice to as big as a normal sized book. As time progresses they are steadily decreasing the size of the tags. In healthcare, there are many uses for RFID tags and some of them are to control the use of prescription drugs, increase facility security, effectively manage hospital equipment, and to monitor patient safety.

In a hospital setting or a doctor's office, prescription drugs are a constant factor so implementing a new plan to control the use of them is a good idea. This is an amazing new technology that puts RFID tags inside prescription medication packets. By the time the medical facility receives the medication, the RFID tag is already installed inside of it. For patients in a hospital the RFID tags on their wristband will really help the hospital personnel safely match up the patient to the prescription. It will provide a vast amount of personal information including what kind of medicine the patient takes, the correct dosage and any other information regarding any kind of allergies. This saves medical personnel a lot of time and money because when doing this by hand, it was much more time consuming and there were a lot more medical errors.

For outpatients, this method of monitoring the use of prescription drugs is very interesting and seems to be effective. The process begins by the prescribed medication being distributed to the patient. Then, after the patient is done taking the medicine, they bring back the used bottle to the same facility they got it from. Since the RFID tag is embedded into the package there is a way to pull up the complete history to find out exactly what day the package was opened and the patient's actual usage. These studies are useful in monitoring to see if the patients are using the prescription drugs as prescribed. They can tell if the patient missed a dose, doubled up or didn't take it at all. The RFID tag can even be programmed to signal the patient when it is the appropriate time to take their medicine. Although for this to work, they need to have the patient's complete cooperation. Also, having access to this kind of information will definitely help the physician with the careful planning of the patient's follow up care. It is important for the patient to have excellent care whether they at home or in the hospital.

RFID tags “can also be used to improve the security of a hospital or treatment center by controlling facility access” (Wicks & Visich, 2006). Ideally all employees, patients and visitors will be issued a RFID tag. This will enable the facility to remain fully aware of where everybody is at all times. It will help to keep all restricted areas under stringent control. If a person enters an area that they are not authorized to be in, security will be promptly alerted of the intrusion. It is the primary function of hospital security to keep all persons and hospital equipment safe and secured at all times.

This is because hospital equipment can be extremely expensive. Sometimes without the proper system in place, valuable equipment can be misused, misplaced or even stolen. In 2003, “four million dollars worth of equipment was unaccounted for at Jackson Memorial Hospital” (Wicks & Visich, 2006). This number is staggering and it really demonstrates the need for a big change in the way things are being done. With the hospital equipment tagged, they are able to locate exactly which piece of equipment is needed. This prevents the need to spend money on a rental. They can also track the usage of it so they can more accurately estimate when the equipment will need to be serviced for routine maintenance. In addition to the equipment located inside the hospital, they have to take into account the equipment that is used outside of the hospital as well. RFID has the ability to read information from very long distances so this has shown to be a very useful way of tracking the high-value objects such as the medical equipment that is mobile. Securing equipment and patients is a top priority.

Patient safety needs to be accounted for at all times. Whether they are an inpatient in a hospital or an outpatient at home or long term care facility, safety is always a major concern. When a tag is attached to the patient's wristband and to their personally used medical equipment, their movements while they are inside the facility can be carefully monitored. In many instances, people that have family members inside a hospital or a nursing home want to check on their loved ones even when they can't make it in person. With the RFID tags, they are able to make sure that their loved ones are accounted for. This is especially important for patients that have developed major symptoms from degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's which can cause them to wander around aimlessly or they may even have forgotten where they came from.

When dealing with this kind of modern technology there are always pros and cons to consider. There are many who oppose the use of RFID tags with concerns for their impact on people's privacy. There is a great deal of personal information stored on a RFID microchip. If this information is not properly protected then there are many ways that things can go wrong. Many people feel that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) should be responsible for making laws to protect consumers from this kind of technology. There needs to be updated privacy regulations in order to protect personal information. Various kinds of formal privacy rights and data protection safeguards need to be in place before the security is breached. Performing a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) on the RFID is a good way to see how much the tag can withstand. A PIA is basically a series of tests that are ran on the RFID chip to check for different privacy risks. The main purpose is to make sure that there are appropriate privacy protection measures in place.

A major concern for some hospitals is that they say the RFID tag's radio frequency is interfering with certain forms of medical equipment like pacemakers, ventilators, syringe pumps and dialysis machines. At the Academic Medical Center at the University of Netherlands, researchers there performed multiple tests on three different medical devices and the results proved that there was indeed hazardous interference caused by the radio frequency. This means that the producers of medical equipment devices need to come up with a solution on how to protect their devices from any kind of radio frequency interference. They have to develop ways to block or distort the signal from affecting their medical equipment. Until this issue is completely resolved, it is a good idea not to use RFID tags in the critical care environment.

Another reason some medical facilities oppose the use of RFID tags is because of the high cost of the technology. It takes a lot of funding to be able to cover all the necessary changes that will have to be made in order for the new RFID tags to be implemented into their system. They have to take into account that you have to pay for the tags themselves so they would need billions of them. “The hospital will need to build a wireless infrastructure and buy hardware and software” (Traster, 2004). They would need new network equipment, new printers, tag readers, scanners and also storage hardware. This is only the beginning because then they would have to take into consideration the additional costs for training personnel on how to use the new equipment, and then teach them how to analyze the massive amounts of data that will be retrieved. The combination of paying for all of these things combined can quite expensive but as time goes on, the prices for RFID's are declining. As this trend continues, it is predicted that the cost for this technology will become much more affordable.

Looking ahead in the future, there are many hospitals that are open to using RFID tags in many other ways as well. They want to expand their horizons to include tracking things like the sponges used while performing surgery to make sure nothing is left behind and monitoring how often hospital beds and garments are cleaned. They also want to improve on surgical errors to make sure the right patient is getting the correct body part operated on so the functions of the tag include providing the hospital employees with a digital picture of the patient. Using the RFID tags to perform many different functions simultaneously will probably save the hospitals a lot of money over time.

As time progresses, the makers will eventually implement new ways for the RFID tags to be able to be powered by eco friendly batteries. This is only going to add to their value. This will enhance their total performance by increasing the radio frequency signal strength. By doing this, the range from which the data can be read would also increase so people or objects that have the tags on them would have the capability to be farther away. This type of application makes them a more active tag. The passive RFID tags have no power source located inside of them and are they are simply powered by the scanners that become activated when they come within the range. By adding to their features and purchasing them for mass productions, this will begin to force producers of the tags to lower their cost per tag.

RFID tags are predicted to be the wave of the future. In healthcare there are many possibilities for the uses and functions of this miraculous device. However, those who are excited need to be very patient because implementing this kind of technology into every single hospital will not happen overnight. This is because each individual hospital has its own unique IT infrastructure and there are no current standards for common guidelines for everybody to follow. This makes the integration process even more complicated.

In conclusion, the use of RFID tags in healthcare is a welcomed addition when compared to the technology that is already being currently utilized. Even though it is still very expensive, it will improve overall efficiency and minimize medical mistakes that can be very costly. It will really help to streamline the total healthcare process from the time the patient enters the hospital premises and all throughout their total treatment process.


Chordas, L. (2006). "Tag, You're It." Best's Review. 01 Jun. 47. Retrieved March 17, 2010 from Keiser University elibrary database http://elibrary3.bigchalk.com.prx- 01.lirn.net/elibweb/elib/do/document?set=mylist&lastset=search&dictionaryClick= &resultid=2&requestid=&sortResultsBy=TopicRelevance&groupResultsBy=&linki d=main&edition=&urn=urn%3Abigchalk%3AUS%3BBCLib%3Bdocument%3B12 5343227

Traster, T. (2004). "Hospitals are tuning in to radio tracking devices." Crain's New York Business. 25 Oct.:34. Retrieved March 18, 2010 from Keiser University elibrary database http://elibrary3.bigchalk.com.prx- .lirn.net/elibweb/elib/do/document?set=mylist&resultid=7&sortResultsBy=&group ResultsBy=&myk12userid=9699&mylistid=6743&total=15&urn=urn:bigchalk:US;B CLib;document;120262495

Wicks, A.M., Visich, J.K., Li, S., (2006). "Radio Frequency Identification Applications in Hospital Environments." Hospital Topics 3:3. Retrieved March 17, 2010 from Keiser University elibrary database http://elibrary3.bigchalk.com.prx- 01.lirn.net/elibweb/elib/do/document?set=search&dictionaryClick=&secondaryNa v=&groupid=1&requestid=lib_standard&resultid=2&edition=&ts=E060C07EF36A 992D4A0069414BEE688B_1268825803254&start=1&publicationId=&urn=urn%3 Abigchalk%3AUS%3BBCLib%3Bdocument%3B126965717

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