How RFID technology can help prevent medical errors and reduce infections

The COVID-19 pandemic brought technology into sharper focus in many ways. As we noted in a recent blog post, digital transformation accelerated as businesses rushed to move to remote work and contactless delivery and payment.

RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology was deployed widely to keep track of vaccine movement, manage PPE and other vital equipment, track infected patients in healthcare facilities, and even ensure good handwashing hygiene in at-risk environments such as healthcare and hospitality.  

In this article, we consider the broader application and benefits of RFID asset tracking in the healthcare industry, particularly how it is being used to prevent medical errors and reduce infections. 

Estimates vary, but one study of historical medical records found that in-hospital medical errors may lead to nearly 200,000 deaths per year in the United States alone. Medical errors can be caused by a number of factors, but in many cases it comes down to lack of access to correct and timely information that leads to mistakes being made by people. 

And the spread of infections in medical facilities can be deadly, as has been seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. Using RFID to improve hygiene practices can help increase compliance and reduce the spread of infections. 

 

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 (or person) 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 using a handheld reader or App-enabled smartphone. In addition, fixed RFID readers or stations are strategically located in a healthcare facility such as a hospital to track the movement of patients, medicines and consumables.

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 patients and items in real-time, as well as providing useful insights to help make more informed care and business decisions. 

 

How can RFID technology be used to reduce medical errors?

One of the main features of RFID technology is the sheer amount of data that can be stored on RFID tags. More than that, the data is constantly updated as tags move through systems or places. This provides accurate and real-time data to medical professionals in fast-moving and busy healthcare environments such as emergency and operating theatres.

Consider the scenario of a patient arriving at hospital. On arrival they are ‘tagged’ with an RFID chip (perhaps in a wrist band or lanyard) that will then accompany them on their entire journey around the hospital until they are discharged. Every healthcare worker they encounter will have a hand-held device (smartphone or tablet for example) that can read the up-to-date information on the tag so that the patient is correctly identified and diagnosed every step of the way.

This helps reduce the chance of misidentification, dispensing of incorrect medication or even incorrect surgical procedures. In the case of surgeries, consumables in operating theatres (such as sponges) can be tagged to ensure nothing is left behind after a procedure.

Post-surgery, RFID tags can act as alerts for nursing staff and clinicians by monitoring the vital signs of patients such as the rise and fall of their temperature. 

 

How can RFID technology help reduce the spread of infections?

The recent experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, as covered in our recent article, demonstrated the capability of RFID to reduce the spread of infectious diseases in a number of different ways:

‘No touch’ RFID asset tracking helps stop the spread of disease

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. 

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 and other healthcare facilities. 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.

An integrated RFID technology solution comprising various types of tags, readers and specialised RFID asset tracking software can be deployed in hospitals and healthcare facilities to ensure that accurate and up-to-date information is visible to doctors, nurses and specialists at all times, helping reduce errors. At the same time, it can be used to promote and manage good hygiene practices for all personnel to limit the spread of infectious diseases.

 

RAMP asset tracking solutions are the healthy choice for Australian businesses

If you need an RFID solution for your healthcare business, or an efficient and effective way to keep track of your valuable assets or inventory in manufacturing, transport, retail, distribution or across your 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.