The strategic and effective use of technology in the healthcare sector has become a fundamental component to support the provision of quality health services and patient safety. Clinical engineering and information technologies offer new opportunities to transform medical care through the reengineering of processes that seek to implement novel solutions to save costs, minimize risks, and facilitate access to quality information in real-time.
Among the technologies that contribute most to achieving these objectives are those that incorporate the use of transmission and location via radio waves in real-time. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a means of storing and retrieving data by electromagnetic transmission using a device compatible with radio frequencies ranging from 100 KHz to 960 MHz. This technology is capable of identifying hundreds of tagged articles per second by wireless information transmission.
One of the first systems adopted by hospitals was barcode scanners, a technology that rapidly became widespread throughout many health institutions. While barcodes are still needed, there are limitations in healthcare supply chain since it requires a direct line-of-sight to read, is not editable or able to store data, and is easy to replicate. Therefore hospitals are looking for alternatives or complimentary RFID-based tags to manage medical devices, hospital assets, and medications; seeking to improve dispatch efficiency, reduce administration errors, authenticate consumables, and control inventory levels.
Currently RFID is used to provide traceability, communication, identification, and location of people, equipment, and devices in real-time. This can reduce counterfeiting, save time locating devices, identify insufficient or excessive use of devices, reduce medical errors in laboratory tests, ensure proper sterilization techniques were followed, and even manage blood bank products with greater precision.
According to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, Inc. (HIMSS) RFID can increase efficiency over standard barcode technology by reading multiple tags at once. Also, tags are able to store more information per chip than a barcode, and work with wireless scanners that have the ability to instantly identify and capture that data.
In the healthcare supply chain, RFID tracking technology can provide rapid, efficient, and accurate real-time information for all healthcare supply chain members, improve accuracy of that data, and reduce time spent on administrative duties
, along with inventory-related efficiencies and savings.
An RFID system is typically comprised of the following components:
A label or identifier that is electronic and used to store information. Each RFID tag contains an integrated circuit chip and an antenna encapsulated in proper packaging. A tag containing a unique identification number and an array of product data such as manufacturer, product type, various related environmental information, etc., is attached or embedded in an article. Tags are available in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and protective housings. Some tags are encapsulated in packages the size of a credit card, others are for use in harsh environments such as container tracking applications. The smallest commercially available devices measure 0.4 x 0.4 mm and are thinner than a sheet of paper.
A component used to collect any and all information stored in a tag. The RFID reader consists of a decoder that, through an antenna, transmits and receives the radio frequency waves from RFID tags, thus detecting and monitoring their movements. The RFID reader can read and/or write data to the tags, read the identification codes of those nearby tags, and assign new codes through a database or external service. There are currently systems that combine RFID and Wireless Sensor Networks (WSN) applied directly in healthcare settings. There are several different solutions in the marketplace that use WSN technologies such as IEEE 802.15.4, ZigBee, and even WiFi or Bluetooth.
Server systems: A database used to catalog and manage the received data from the operations of the reader and tag. The software manages the information in the database and can also contain the details of the tags and readers. All the information is sent to an RFID server to guarantee communication between the RFID infrastructure and the different intra and inter-organizational systems.
RFID can record and track devices and products used in patient care. Due to the large number of elements that are utilized and amount of data associated with each type of equipment such as manufacturer, serial number, etc. for devices or brand, batch, expiration date, etc. for medications, an RFID system is an ideal encoder and organizer for these inventories.
To ensure efficient operations of a hospital, and consequently the ability to provide high-quality service and care, it is essential to properly plan maintenance tasks. This presents a challenge because it needs to be evident as to what equipment must be maintained, where it is located, and what, if any, spare parts are needed. It is also important to highlight the degree of difficulty for the maintenance or repair as maintenance of medical equipment is binary. In other words, it can be relatively simple or extremely complicated. An example of this is the easy maintenance of equipment that is used to measure blood pressure due to its constructive simplicity. On the other hand, electrocardiograms, infusion pumps, and defibrillators have somewhat greater constructive complexity, leading to more challenging maintenance and repair tasks.
Another application where radio frequency has a great impact within the hospital is in asset management. RFID technology can provide the location and status of each device within the hospital campus. In this way, personnel do not waste time searching for the equipment they need and greater visibility is achieved for their administration. Studies have shown that more than one-third of nurses lose at least one hour of each shift looking for the right equipment.
Other studies reveal that time spent on the administration of equipment and devices contains a loss range between 15% and 33% of the shift. Among the most labeled devices are breast pumps, cameras, workstations on wheels, Dinamaps (blood pressure), Doppler, enteral feeding pumps, infusion pumps, monitors, pacemakers, sequential compression devices, otoscopes, trays, ultrasound machines, medical ventilators, and vacuum machines.
RFID technology presents a series of solutions in the healthcare industry that minimize the number of errors in critical tasks and reduce costs at the same time. It is also important to highlight other distinct benefits, such as agility in the reading of labels, increased device location visibility, feasibility of rewriting, data storage capacity, and scalability condition in any project.
After having studied the applications of this technology in a hospital system, it can be said that RFID technology is a very powerful tool to visualize problems, make decisions, and verify their impacts. It allows hospitals to develop a continuous improvement process, thereby reducing costs and maximizing the efficiency of the entire system. The medical and healthcare fields have benefited from RFID technology for some time. Recent innovations by FEIG Electronics are expanding the capabilities of RFID technology, bringing richer data streams, more dynamic features, intuitive user interfaces and more.
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