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RFID Tag May Improve Patient Safety

Originally Published MDDI February 2005 NEWSTRENDS  

Originally Published MDDI February 2005

NEWSTRENDS

Maria Fontanazza

SurgiChip Inc.'s surgical body tag uses RFID technology to identify a surgical site on a patient's body. orthopedics sector.

An external body tag is the latest application of radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology to
reduce medical errors in hospitals.

RFID has received a lot of attention as a technique used by large retailers, such as Wal-Mart, to scan and track inventory. Although the healthcare field has been hesitant to implement the technology, some hospitals have adopted it for selected uses.

The surgical body tag recently cleared by FDA is the first medical device to use RFID to identify a surgical site on the body. Manufactured by SurgiChip Inc. (Palm Beach Gardens, FL), the system comprises a smart label, a printer supplied by Zebra Technologies Corp. (Vernon Hills, IL), an encoder, and an RFID reader.

While RFID technology hasn't yet seen widespread use in hospitals, the Surgi-Chip may be a sign of increasing interest in using automatic identification in such settings. “I think people are much more aware of the technology and its capabilities,” says Zebra's Debbie Murphy. “Now is the time for vendors and healthcare operations to look at where it makes sense to apply these technologies to meet business needs and processes within hospitals.”

The tag has already sparked the interest of universities, large hospitals, and even veterinarians, according to Bruce Waxman, MD, president of SurgiChip. It contains a computer chip and is fastened to the skin with adhesive and removed before surgery. “It provides all the information that the surgeon needs at the incision site,” says Waxman. The patient's name and the surgical site are printed on the tag. The date and type of procedure, along with the name of the surgeon, are encoded in the chip. After the label is scanned by the RFID reader, the patient confirms the information and the tag is placed in the hospital chart.

“Wrong-site surgery is not only a U.S. problem, but something that the world is looking at,” says Murphy. “There are about five to six cases reported to JCAHO [Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations] per month in the United States.”

While hospitals may see cost as a factor when considering RFID, they're also concerned with ensuring patient safety. “I think initial uses will be niche applications,” says Murphy. “We're seeing bar coding and RFID being used in specialized applications where it makes the most sense. A label can't hold the amount of data that you can inside a chip.”

The SurgiChip system includes a smart label, a printer supplied by Zebra Technologies Corp., an encoder, and an RFID reader.

Irwin Thall of Precision Dynamics Corp. (San Fernando, CA) also sees growth coming in healthcare RFID. In the past few months, he says, he has seen more device companies conducting research in RFID technology. “We're educating device manufacturers and promoting awareness of these technologies.”

Precision Dynamics has been working with suppliers that want to take advantage of RFID's updatable attributes, such as wristbands that can record multiple blood glucose readings. It also plans on partnering with device makers to persuade hospitals to adopt RFID. “Companies want to make devices part of the information chain,” says Thall. “They need to know who they're connected to, and then on the backside, be connected to some type of hospital system, such as a lab, pharmacy, x-ray, or clinical information for electronic records.”

Copyright ©2005 Medical Device & Diagnostic Industry

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