RFID adoption poised for ‘huge’ growth

By Mike Miliard
03:40 PM

They're tiny: often just the size of a grain of rice or even a mote of dust. And they're cheap: usually just ten bucks or so. But radio frequency identification (RFID) chips pack a powerful punch. And they're being used in more – and more interesting – ways than ever.

In their simplest form, RFIDs are tiny tags with an integrated circuit that stores and processes information and an antenna for receiving and transmitting the signal; oftentimes they can be read from some distance away.

In medicine, they're useful for keeping tabs on patient flow, bed management, provider-patient communication and, especially, tracking of valuable equipment, with more than 60 of medical devices making use of passive RFIDs.

"We've gotten a gotten a lot of traction in the healthcare space," says Zahir Abji, founder, president and CEO of Guard RFID in Delta, B.C.

In addition to its primary industrial-based services, Guard RFID's healthcare offerings include Totguard, which uses the smallest active chips on the market to ensure infant security in hospitals; Safeguard, which protects against wandering patients; and Allguard, a general-purpose asset management solution.

"Currently, if you buy an infant security solution and you want an asset management solution, you've got to buy a completely different system," says Abji. "We can support any type of application on one infrastructure, one server.”

But it's not just patients and equipment that can be tracked via the chips. In June, Dynamic Computer Corporation (DCC) of Farmington Hills, Mich., released its RFID-based hand-washing application, aiming to reduce the two million yearly incidences of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) in the United States.

Using infrared radio frequency sensors, soap dispensers are designed to read staff ID badges and monitor the location and timing of hand hygiene compliance. If staff forget to wash their hands, hospital staff members are alerted in real time; after washing their hands, a verification alert is sounded that indicates successful information capture about whom, when and where the hand washing occurred.

"Despite the statistics regarding the impact of HAIs, hand hygiene adherence in the best of hospitals is around 50 percent," said Farida Ali, president and CEO of DCC. "Our solution benefits hospitals seeking to improve patient care while greatly reducing costs."
One company that's recently been pushing the boundaries of RFIDs use is Positive ID, of Delray Beach, Fla.

Its projects include the legacy VeriMed system, which consists of an FDA-cleared, RFID human-implantable microchip that links to a personal health record, enabling doctors to treat non-responsive patients in the event of an emergency.

More recently, the company has been doing some significant research into using biosensitive RFID chips for real-time blood glucose monitoring.

It's still a "long-term development project," says Scott Silverman, CEO of Positive ID, but "being able to communicate your blood sugar readings from within your body to a scanner that's outside your body without having to prick your finger three times a day "holds an obvious appeal for diabetics,” he says.

The future is exciting. But from the tracking of hospital equipment to the transformation of diabetes management, certain things have to happen for RFIDs to gain even greater traction, says Abji. First and foremost, "the cost has to get lower; there has to be ROI."

Second, he says, "in order to have adoption take place in a big way there has to be standards. And we'd like to assist in creating those standards. That's why we're part of and very active in the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] standards committee. We've also recently joined the DASH7 Alliance, "a cross-industry initiative that aims to increase the adoption of low-energy wireless data technology.”

In the future, says Abji, "any high-value piece of equipment you purchase, even for your home, will contain some form of active RFID." That's especially true for healthcare, he says. "I really think, within the next 10 years, there's going to be huge, huge adoption of active RFID."

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