Clinical Mobility: The Pros and Cons Of Deploying RFID Wristbands And Tags Throughout Hospitals
Updated: May 13
Hospitals constantly reflect on ways they can improve patient care - whether it's through streamlining clinical workflows, improving visibility of life-saving equipment, or ensuring patient safety by addressing security concerns. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technologies have been beneficial to a lot of healthcare facilities. They enable management to track and manage their assets with more clarity, while allowing staff to dedicate more time to doing what they do best. That being said, there are some key considerations business leaders need to weigh up before investing in RFID solutions.
What are the benefits of RFID technology in Healthcare?
1. Asset management: A lot of hospitals already use barcode technology to help manage their inventories and conduct stock counts. While barcode technology is a fantastic addition to wards - empowering workforces to have a precise view of what an asset is and where it has been - RFID tags can be embedded into labels that also have barcode functionality, with two noteworthy benefits. One, is that RFID tags can be scanned without line of sight, so instead of having to pick up each item in a stock room and scan it, you can simply wave a reader within range of the items intended to be counted - this means multiple items can be scanned at once. To put that in perspective, it typically takes a person over 2 minutes to write down the information of twelve pill bottles, whereas it takes just 37.9 seconds to scan the containers using a barcode scanner. An RFID scanner can pick up all twelve products in just over one second. The second key benefit is that RFID tags can communicate back to readers in real-time, informing devices of the exact whereabouts and statuses of various pieces of equipment.
2. Positive patient identification: With RFID wristbands, hospitals are able to positively identify patients in wards without manual intervention or disturbance. Let's say a patient is asleep while recovering from intensive surgery, an RFID wristband could be scanned from a distance without having to remove swaddle blankets, drapes or items of clothing. When scanned, an RFID tag can communicate real-time up-to-date medical records to clinicians' devices.
3. Safety for vulnerable patients: RFID tags are particularly useful for the purpose of role-based access across maternity wards and mental health wards. They are also a better alternative for enabling single-sign-on to local devices without having to manually insert cards into readers (where they can be forgotten, left or lost). A great use-case for RFID wristbands is for new-born babies in maternity wards. For such vulnerable patients, security is a huge priority and RFID tags can ensure that only hospital staff can get in, and any RFID wristbands that leave without authorisation trigger an alert within the hospital system.
What do I need to consider before deploying RFID technology?
1. The cost of development: There are many different types of RFID tags, and they all vary in cost, functionality and role. While innovation has brought down the cost of RFID tagging in general, there is still a cost associated with it that should only be justified where RFID functionality is required and the cost incurred is offset by savings, or in the new efficiencies that will be generated.
2. Can barcode technology satisfy the same goal? The UK has created initiatives to try and unite healthcare facilities in their mission to modernise patient care. As a result, the vast majority of hospitals are already using barcode technology. There is a different conversation to be had here about whether their use of existing technology can be improved. As far as RFID tagging is concerned, it's important that you ask what information you need, how often you need it, how specific it needs to be and whether your existing technology can enable that same functionality with a couple of tweaks. In the case of inventory counts, how much time and money might you save in being able to scan a hundred items in the same time you would usually scan one?
3. Installation and infrastructure: active RFID tagging requires installation of readers and antennas throughout hospital wards, as well as connectivity infrastructure to make sure devices and tags can operate seamlessly. This means it's especially important that solution providers have access to teams of engineers that are skilled and experienced in rolling out solutions quickly and reliably.
How can I make a decision about what is right for my healthcare facility?
From our experience, the best business leaders have a clear vision around what they want for their business, as well as a firm understanding of the challenges frontline workers are facing, and an appreciation for the expertise of solution providers in explaining what technology is available and how it can be applied to their business, to realise best value. I would advise that you reach out to an experienced IT professional to make sure you are taking the best next steps for your business.
This Article was Written by Mark Gilkes
Mark Gilkes is our senior Account Director and Healthcare Lead, here at MiTEQ. He has spent the best part of 30-years working alongside private and public healthcare facilities to improve patient care, expenditure and overall efficiencies. You can reach out to Mark directly via Mark's LinkedIn page, or reach out to MiTEQ's solutions team here. It doesn't matter what stage your business is at, if it relates to transformation, we can point you in the right direction.