Healthcare is one of the biggest industries in India now, it is estimated to reach ₹4.1 trillion by the year 2025. Which makes sense when you look at your bill for getting a simple blood test done at the hospital. Hospitals often invest in very expensive equipment & devices; they also must invest a lot in disposable equipment. All this comes around to the fact that hospitals must maintain a good tracing system for their assets. That is why, most of them use RFID tags for tracking medical equipment.
So, let’s discuss in brief RFID & how it is used in the healthcare sector.
A Brief Introduction to RFID Technology
Radio Frequency Identification, or as it’s more commonly known as RFID, is a system of transmitting information between devices. These systems use wireless communication for the transfer of data inside a certain range. RFID uses radio waves in different frequency ranges to accomplish this task.
The use of RFID technology has become prevalent in many industries, like health care, for identification & tracking.
How Does an RFID System Work?
As the name suggests, RFID uses radio signals of a certain frequency to communicate identification information. But how does it do it? Let me tell you. And RFID systems consist of two major components – RFID Tag and Reader. The tag holds an RFID chip inside it, the chip is made of an antenna and a microchip that stores data. On the other hand, the reader contains a power supply and antennas that act like receivers & transmitters.
Before mounting/sticking a tag on an item, program it to store the information (name, product code, group, etc) of the item. The RFID readers will continue broadcasting their radio signals while they are operational. Once the tag comes in contact with the reader’s signal, it’ll broadcast back a signal of its own. This signal is then picked up by the reader & communicated back to your system.
Applications of RFID in Health Care Sector
Medical technology is in a constant state of development and innovation. Every year you can find the introduction of new medical instruments to better test & take care of patients. However, this also means that hospitals must regularly purchase & maintain equipment. It doesn’t help that medical devices are also very expensive; an average X-Ray Machine can range from ₹1lakh - ₹15lakh. Making them susceptible to physical damage or theft. In addition, these devices are vital for patient care & need to be available at a moment’s notice.
The implementation of RFID allows hospitals to keep track of medical equipment by having access to their real-time location. This helps by,
a) Preventing loss/theft of valuable items
b) Save time in locating & retrieving any device
c) Automates inventory management
d) Keep track of service & maintenance records
Using RFID technology in any business reduces time spent on tracking & retrieving assets, managing records, etc. In a field like healthcare, where the stakes are high, a few seconds can be a difference between life & death. Thus, making efficiency a core value of the healthcare sector.
Types of RFID Tags Used with Hospital Equipment
You can classify tags into two types – Active & Passive Tags. Although both types of tags work on the same principle, the difference lies in how they broadcast signals. An active RFID tag has an integrated power supply and uses that to transmit signals to the reader. On the other hand, passive tags use the reader’s signal to power up & send back a signal. Active tags’ signals have more power & therefore, have a much larger broadcast range than passive tags.
Generally, hospitals use passive tags for patients or less valuable items. However, for medical instruments like X-ray machines, ECG, Portable MRI, etc, you’ll find that active tags are very common. This is because active tags cost a lot more than passive tags, in addition, they have a limited lifespan. Also, you may need to track such items throughout the hospital premises, since they cost a lot more & therefore are limited in number.
What are the Benefits of Using RFID in Hospitals
Before the introduction of RFID into logistics, there were other forms of asset tracking. Most prominently, barcodes & manual record keeping. While these methods are effective too, they have some major downfalls. So, let’s discuss how RFID have an edge over traditional methods.
Automated Record Keeping
Unlike barcodes, after implementing an RFID system, you don’t have to do anything. Since these systems don’t need physical contact or line of sight. Whenever an item enters the read range of an RFID reader, the system will automatically scan & update the database.
No Margin for Error
Due to the removal of human labour/involvement, there is no chance of any mistake in the database or inventory. Since the system can identify between the items & automatically scan them based on their proximity.
Traditional methods of asset tracking require physically retrieving the item & feeding their information into the system. This makes it a time-consuming task, but with RFID that problem is gone. Unlike barcodes or manual entry, RFID readers can scan north of 1000 tags per second.
As stated above, asset tracking can be a time-consuming task, which also makes it an expensive task. Since, every second an employee is busy keeping records, they are not doing something that would make the business money. So, by automating these processes with RFID, the employees are free to perform other productive tasks.
In an industry like healthcare, efficiency is rewarded & you must deal with expensive equipment daily. It is necessary to have a robust system of security & asset management. This is where RFID technology shines, by automating all these processes.
By using RFID, you can track the real-time location of any medical instrument/device. It makes retrieval of essential lifesaving supplies easier and allows employees to focus on saving lives.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q1. What is RFID tag for medical devices?
Ans: As the name suggests, these tags allow hospitals to keep track of their assets like clothes, medical instruments, medical equipment, etc. These systems use radio signals to communicate important information about items, like model number, location, time, etc.
Q2. What are 2 disadvantages of RFID?
Ans: On average, RFID outperforms other systems of asset identification & tracking on almost every metric. However, like any technology, it has some disadvantages.
a) RFID uses electromagnetic waves (radio signals) to communicate between the tag & reader. This makes it vulnerable to metal surfaces & liquids, as these can cause signal disruptions & detuning.
b) Cost is another thing to factor in, on average, an RFID system can cause 10 times more to implement than a barcode system.
Q3. What are the cons of RFID in healthcare?
Ans: Implementing Radio Frequency Identification in healthcare can streamline a lot of the day-to-day functions. However, they also have some disadvantages.
a) Due to the size of the hospital, you will have to strategically place several readers throughout the premises.
b) Active RFID tags have a shorter operational lifespan due to being dependent on batteries. Therefore, you’ll have to replace the tags or batteries every 2 to 3 years.
c) Active tags are also more expensive than passive ones, but due to their range & tracking abilities, they are used on most valuable items.
d) Passive tags, on the other hand, will not provide real-time location. Therefore, you can only use them in situations where that is not a necessity.