Radio frequency identification (RFID) in Healthcare settings

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Radio frequency identification (RFID) “tags” are unobtrusive electronic devices that passively or actively relay their presence to an external reader. Familiar to almost every retail consumer as a technology for inventory control, RFID are used in production environments for real time location services (RTLS). (Frisch, 2010). The technology's flexibility and decreasing costs have garnered it attention for non-traditional applications. Healthcare organizations have long recognized their utility for tracking everything from surgical supplies and pharmacy prescription containers to admitted patients. (Bouck, 2012) Virtually any device or supply in the healthcare setting could be tagged and monitored. Recent implementations focus on extending awareness beyond device physical location, to device usage and also to monitoring of clinical staff and patients within clinics.

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center has implemented device location data for infusion pumps that is augmented with data on usage status (in use / available) and disposition (functioning / requires service). (Frisch, 2010). Tracking device use over time provides insight to resource utilization and allows for redistribution according to needs. Frisch and colleagues have further identified areas where RFID use can assist with workflow and optimization drawing on patient and clinical staff identification technology. RFID technology enables real-time tracking of patients and physicians with scalable implementation from large hospitals to small clinics. (Chen, 2012) Data inputs for resource use, demographic, and workflow appear to be a logical complement to Electronic Health Records technology.

Potential Benefits

Cost reduction

Patient safety

Error prevention

Improved efficiency

Potential Risks

Implementation costs

Interference with existing infrastructure



Just as with EHR, RFID implementation requires a systematic and thorough plan. Integrating an RFID asset monitoring function on to the clinical information systems infrastructure is likely to succeed only when mutually reinforcing beneficial feedbacks occur. In Critical Elements and Lessons Learnt from the Implementation of an RFID-enabled Healthcare Management System in a Medical Organization, Ting et al have identified 11 distinct steps within the broad areas of preparation, implementation and maintenance that are necessary for a successful RFID integration in a clinical setting. (Ting, 2011) Specifically, in the context of clinical operations, RFID must improve patient medical records management and pharmacy accountability. Failure to adequately prepare for RFID implementation, like failure to prepare for EHR implementation, has been linked to failed implementations and de-installations. (van Oranje, 2012)


Botterman, M. and van Oranje, C. Study on the requirements and options for RFID application in healthcare. Workshop Report. May 2009. RAND Corporation.

Bouck, L. RFID tags in Medicine. MEDFLY Blog web site. 2012.

Chen, JC. , Collins, TJ. Creation of a RFID Based Real Time Tracking (R-RTT) System for Small Healthcare Clinics. 2012. J Med Syst. 2012 May 5. [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 22562667

Frisch PH, Booth P, Miodownik S. Beyond inventory control: understanding RFID and its applications. Biomed Instrum Technol. 2010; Suppl:39-48. PMID: 20225713.

Dondelinger, RM. The Fundamentals Of…Radio Frequency Identification. Biomed Instrum Technol. 2010 Jan-Feb;44(1):44-7. PMID: 20374122.

Ting, S., Kwok, S. Tsang, A., Lee, W. Critical Elements and Lessons Learnt from the Implementation of an RFID-enabled Healthcare Management System in a Medical Organization. J Med Syst (2011) 35:657–669. PMID: 20703523

van Oranje-Nassau, C., Schindler, R., Vilamovska, AM., Botterman, M. Policy Options for Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Application in Healthcare; a Prospective View Final Report (D5) RAND Health Quarterly, 2012; 1(4):5.

Vilamovska, AM., Hatziandreu, E., Schindler, R., van Oranje-Nassau, C., de Vries, H., Krapels, J. Study on the requirements and options for RFID application in healthcare. Identifying areas for Radio Frequency Identification deployment in health care delivery: A review of relevant literature. Technical Report, TR-608-EC. 2009. RAND Corporation.

Submitted by (Kelly Gossen)