RFID Catching on in Retail; Are Hospitals Next?

Originally Published MDDI June 2004NEWSTRENDS

June 1, 2004

3 Min Read
RFID Catching on in Retail; Are Hospitals Next?

Originally Published MDDI June 2004


RFID systems work by transmitting information, via radio signals, between transponders and readers.

Erik Swain

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is gaining acceptance in the retail market. Will hospitals follow? 

Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer, is requiring its top 100 suppliers to adopt RFID by 2005. Analysts expect its other vendors to have to follow suit in the near future. That could propel popular acceptance for the technology, which has been around since 1969. 

Most RFID systems consist of a transponder that transmits and responds to radio signals sent by readers. They can be used for scanning and tracking but can store more information than bar codes and don't require directional scanning. 

Whether RFID will become a common medical technology remains to be seen. But some industry observers are championing the idea, and some pilot programs have been put in place. 

Colin Towner, an RFID expert at Cap Gemini Ernst & Young (New York City), said he is seeing more RFID applications in hospitals. Examples include fixed-asset tracking, IV-solution tracking, and patient-identification systems. But there is not yet any critical mass of support, he added.

“The question is when will there be enough products so that the need is perceived for it and wholesalers will start to take advantage of it.” Only at that point, Towner said, will the cost of RFID come down to near the same level as that for bar codes. 

One project that could be influential is a pilot study by Precision Dynamics Corp. (San Fernando, CA) and Georgetown University Hospital (Washington, DC). It is investigating whether RFID wristbands increase the efficiency and reliability of blood transfusion in real-life settings. 

Wristbands with RFID technology may increase the efficiency and reliability of blood transfusion.

Precision Dynamics' technology can be read through and around the human body, clothing, bed coverings, and nonmetallic materials. This technology, the company says, will ensure the integrity of information between the patient, the host device, and the hospital information system.

“We expect this study to show that RFID solutions complement bar code technologies and increase the efficiency and reliability of identifying patients, their blood samples, and their intended blood for transfusion,” said S. Gerald Sandler, the hospital's director of transfusion medicine. 

Certain things will have to happen, however, before there is widespread adoption for devices, Towner said. First, FDA will have to throw its support behind the technology. Second, over-the-counter device manufacturers that sell to stores like Wal-Mart will have to have demonstrated RFID's benefits. And third, while RFID can provide more information about each unique device, hospitals will have 
to decide what they are willing and able to do with that information. 

Copyright ©2004 Medical Device & Diagnostic Industry

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