How RFID technology can improve health and safety during a pandemic

Various technologies have become widely adopted and used since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. In fact, technology has been key to helping us survive, and even thrive, in what has evolved to a new normal scenario of living with COVID.

 

For businesses, digital transformation became digital acceleration, and it was estimated that five years of digital adoption was achieved in just eight weeks in the early stages of the pandemic. 

 

Business models shifted to online, remote work (or working from home) became the norm and many businesses moved technology operations to the cloud to better meet the needs of customers and employees. And video conferencing applications such as Zoom enjoyed explosive growth (for both business and home use) as travel restrictions forced many people to rapidly shift to remote communication. 

 

Even the humble QR-code, previously maligned as a solution looking for a problem, came into its own and has become ubiquitous as a check-in method for offices, hospitality venues and retail stores as a key part of contact tracing efforts to reduce the spread of the virus.

 

But what about RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology? What role can and does it play alongside other technologies to keep people safe and healthy while a new and deadly virus spreads quickly around the world?

 

RFID technology and the pandemic

 

RFID technology solutions have helped revolutionise supply chains and the management of inventory and a wide range of assets over the last two decades. The principles that increase the visibility of inventory and assets with the application of RFID technology solutions have also been applied to address problems unique to the outbreak of a pandemic as we have experienced over the last couple of years.

 

Some of the more interesting uses of RFID technology that have emerged during the pandemic include:

  • Keeping vaccines moving to where they are needed
  • Monitoring strict vaccine temperature controls
  • Managing PPE and other vital equipment and inventory
  • Tracking close contacts and the movement of infected patients in healthcare facilities
  • Ensuring frontline employees in healthcare and hospitality maintain good handwashing hygiene

 

Before we take a look at how the technology is being used to increase safety and prevent the spread of COVID-19, let’s take a look at RFID technology and how it works. 

 

What is RFID technology and how does it work?

 

RFID technology solutions are made up of core components that work together to keep track of valuable inventory, assets and even people. A ‘smart’ tag is affixed to an item needing to be tracked. RFID tags come in a variety of shapes, sizes and capabilities, but common to them all is the ability to store information (much more than standard barcodes) and communicate data such as movement and location back to a central database. 

 

RFID readers are used to ‘read’ tags from a distance, often with the simple wave of a hand in a packed storeroom full of tagged products using a handheld reader or App-enabled smartphone. In addition, fixed RFID readers or stations are strategically located in say a hospital, warehouse or workplace and they track the movement of items in and out.

 

All the information fed from tags to readers is then relayed to a central location where custom RFID software (such as RAMP’s Loca.fi) stores and analyses a huge amount of data to identify the precise location of valuable items in real-time, as well as providing useful insights to help make more informed business decisions. 

 

‘No touch’ RFID asset tracking helps stop the spread of COVID-19

 

One of the major benefits of using RFID to track inventory and assets is that tags can be read at a distance, helping to save time and money in counting stock for example. This is also extremely helpful in reducing the spread of viruses as there is no need for staff to physically touch various items while counting them. They can be accounted for at a distance with no physical contact whatsoever, minimising surface contact and the potential person-to-person spreading of bacteria. 

 

RFID a healthy choice during the pandemic

 

Let’s take a look at some of the specific applications of RFID technology that have been utilised to keep people safe all over the world during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Keeping track of vaccines as they are shipped to where they are needed: This is a classic supply chain problem – ensure a product gets from the point of manufacture to the point of use while monitoring its progress at every step along the way. This is an even more acute problem when moving approved COVID-19 vaccines all around the world because they are literally saving lives, demand is high and they also have a limited shelf life. RFID helps by tracking vaccine inventory at an item, carton or pallet level to maintain an accurate and real-time inventory count at all stages of the supply chain.

 

Monitoring strict vaccine temperature controls: With Pfizer’s widely-used COVID-19 vaccine needing to be kept at a temperature colder than winter in Antarctica, the deployment of RFID tags with sensors helps monitor, in real-time, the temperature at which the vaccine doses are stored. This helps ensure that not a single dose of this vital vaccine is lost or wasted along the way. 

 

Managing PPE and other critical equipment and inventory: It wasn’t just toilet paper that was in high demand during the height of the pandemic. Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, as well as gowns and gloves used by frontline healthcare and hospital workers, had very high usage and disposal rates. Affixing small RFID tags to a range of items facilitates the monitoring of inventory levels in storerooms, accurately and in real-time, to ensure the continued supply of these essential items that reduce the risk of infection for frontline workers and patient.

 

Tracking close contacts and the movement of infected patients in healthcare facilities: Hospitals and other healthcare facilities became a regular source of localised outbreaks of COVID-19 as infection rates increased and people were consequently hospitalised. RFID tagging technology applied to badges or wristbands can seamlessly track the movement of staff (and patients) so that in the event of a localised outbreak, contact tracing can quickly and easily identify close contacts to reduce the speed of virus spread.

 

Ensuring frontline employees in healthcare and hospitality maintain good handwashing hygiene: A simple idea to promote and monitor effective hand-washing in hospitals, hospitality venues and offices. With workers wearing badges or tags on their person, RFID readers installed at hand-washing stations or in shared bathrooms, can track how often, and for how long, staff are washing their hands.

 

In all these applications, an integrated RFID technology solution comprising various types of tags, readers and specialised RFID asset tracking software can manage data from the field in real-time, providing managers with accurate information and insights to make better decisions, faster. And during a pandemic, these decisions can literally be life or death.

 

Improving the health of Australian businesses with better inventory and asset management

 

If you need an efficient and effective way to keep track of your valuable assets or inventory in healthcare facilities, hospitality venues, retail stores, warehouses or across the entire supply chain, talk to RAMP, Australia’s leading RFID specialist.

 

We’ve been working with Australian businesses for over a decade to design and implement customised RFID solutions for supply chain management and to track inventory, assets, vehicles and people across a range of industries and applications. 

 

RAMP can help you automate and streamline processes to improve efficiency, minimise losses and increase visibility with our locally-based consultants, engineers and software developers.