RFID And IoT In Hospitals: On The Way To Digitization

RFID And IoT In Hospitals On The Way To Digitization

The Internet of Medical Things, paired with RFID technology, are among the leading technologies that enormously support the healthcare sector on the way to digitization and enable completely new application scenarios. The main goal is to improve the quality of care and make diverse processes more efficient. 

Intelligent asset tracking is a buzzword that is becoming increasingly popular in healthcare. From the outside, it looks like an innovation that is difficult to implement and requires a lot of time and money. It makes sense to dig deeper into the subject before drawing any conclusions.

In our blog post, we discuss how IoT- and RFID-supported asset tracking works in hospitals and its advantages in addition to the optimized search of hospital devices.

Quick Entry Into The Technologies

There are two core technologies behind intelligent asset tracking in healthcare: RFID and IoT.  RFID is used to monitor various medical devices and patients (for older adults, children or mentally disabled people, etc.) and to track them digitally. The Internet of Things (IoT) enables efficient data storage, processing, and analysis.

RFID

Radio Frequency identification uses high-frequency electromagnetic fields to locate hospital items with RFID tags attached using the RFID readers. RFID readers can be permanently installed in hallways or rooms in hospitals or other healthcare facilities.

The RFID tag is a chip with an antenna used to send information (IDs, Electronic Product Code (EPC), etc.) to a reader. There are active and passive tags. A busy day has an embedded power source. A passive tag receives its energy from the electromagnetic radiation from an RFID reader. The RFID reader is a device that reads and writes the information on the RFID tag within its reading range. The reader transmits a command and sends out energy to activate a tag. The RFID tag decodes the orders sent by the reader and sends its ID as a response.

IoT

In terms of intelligent asset tracking, the Internet of Things takes care of the storage, processing, and analysis of the data captured by RFID readers: the information about hospital equipment, how it is used, and where it is located.

How RFID And IoT Enable Intelligent Asset Tracking In Hospitals

First, we give a brief overview of how RFID and IoT in healthcare facilities contribute to tracking objects that are often in motion in everyday clinical practice and improve work efficiency. 

Hospital items – from consumables to hospital beds to ultrasound machines – are equipped with RFID tags. The list of medical things and devices can be extended: single-use items (gloves, plastic bottles, syringes), clothing, wheelchairs, medical tools and devices (surgical instruments, infusion pumps, heart monitors), etc. The RFID tags can be attached to the devices to be tracked, linked to, or embedded in them (e.g., in surgical instruments). It is also possible to attach RFID tags to the boxes that contain, for example, medicines and disposables. The RFID readers installed in the hospital rooms and hallways (e.g., on the walls or in the doorways at ward crossings) send information about the location of objects. The staff can determine the position of moving objects via a mobile or web app on a hospital map if a certain thing is urgently needed, a doctor or nurse requests. An IoT system finds the required item (or items) and informs the user of its location.

Benefits For Maintenance Processes

The ability to automatically track hospital items and further analyze the captured data helps hospital staff in several ways.

Automate Routine Tasks

Automation helps overcome the disadvantages and limitations of manual asset tracking: slow speed, human errors, a lot of paperwork. Below are the application examples of how one can benefit from automation in asset tracking and management:

  • Improved drug supply: an IoT system can predict when certain drugs will run out in a hospital and automatically order a new batch.
  • Automated reports on hospital equipment utilization: monthly, weekly and real-time reports provide information on how different departments use hospital equipment to identify missing or underused items.

Increase Transparency

According to the Nursing Times survey, nurses waste an average of an hour per shift looking for necessary items or supplies. There is no doubt that poor warehouse management and the distribution of equipment and consumables means that treatment and maintenance times are shortened, and internal processes are significantly impaired.

With RFID and IoT, the locations and movements of medical objects can be tracked and visualized in real-time, which helps reduce search times. It is especially important when tracking mobile devices and items (e.g., thermometers, blood pressure monitors, and stethoscopes) passed from department to department.

The data on inventory and medical devices are updated regularly, which helps to increase the speed and quality of asset management.

Find Bottlenecks In Internal Hospital Processes

Intelligent asset tracking also makes it possible to discover a process step that considerably slows down the entire workflow. A simple example: If several surgical tools wait in a sterile supply department, the IoT system triggers a corresponding warning. Suppose such a situation is described as systematic. In that case, it may indicate that the sterilization process is being carried out very ineffectively. The hospital must take measures to increase the speed of sterilization of surgical instruments (e.g., buy additional autoclaves used for Steam pressure sterilization of reusable medical devices).

Business Advantages

Using the RFID and IoT-supported asset tracking solution, qualitative and economic improvements are achieved in a healthcare facility.

Prevent Loss And Theft

With intelligent tracking, a health organization can reduce the misuse of its property and better secure it against theft. Suppose an item with an RFID tag leaves a certain location without authorization (each health organization determines which employees are responsible for it). In that case, the IoT system generates an alarm notification informing a hospital security officer of possible theft.

Optimize Investments

Automated reports on the utilization of hospital equipment can help the specialists responsible for inventory management reduce the number of identical items and thus reduce the time and organizational effort required for activities that are not needed, such as equipment rental, purchase, and maintenance. This can save hospitals money and invest in advanced tools and news in healthcare such as B. robot-assisted surgery.

Increase Employee Productivity

When it is no longer necessary to manually manage medical instruments and supplies, generate numerous reports on the use of equipment and items, and waste valuable time searching for much-needed sterilized and ready-to-use equipment, hospital staff have the opportunity to contact themselves directly and focus on caring for and caring for patients. This means that doctors and nursing staff are not distracted from their direct work tasks.

Make A Demand Forecast

Through the continuous collection and efficient evaluation of data on hospital items (e.g., using advanced analytics and machine learning), it is possible to forecast which devices or materials should be taken into account for the next purchase. In addition, a healthcare organization can use this data to better plan the number of items to buy for a new healthcare facility due to expansion.

Challenges And Concerns

While healthcare asset management looks promising with RFID and IoT, a few key points need to be considered if a healthcare facility plans to smoothly and securely adopt intelligent asset tracking.

RFID Can Hurt The Performance Of Medical Devices

RFID can improve the performance of medical equipment such as defibrillators, pacemakers, dialysis machines, patient monitors, etc. influence, which can be especially dangerous in intensive care units. Passive RFID tags draw their energy from the electromagnetic field of RFID readers and therefore have less of an impact on nearby devices. It looks more complicated with active tags that emit radio waves themselves. For an effective introduction of RFID technologies, it is advisable to position readers and medical devices so that no interactions occur between them or to use RFID systems with different reading ranges. Otherwise, it can lead to the malfunction of machines.

Another problem is: a tag in the wrong place can adversely affect the ability of a tool. An ideal solution is to embed an RFID tag directly into the instrument instead of attaching it to its surface.

Effects Of Daily Activities On RFID Tags

Reusable medical items and tools are regularly sterilized, and some of them, such as surgical instruments (scissors, clamps, scalpels, retractors), towels, bed linen, and more, should be disinfected daily. The RFID tags attached must be resistant and robust enough to withstand high temperatures, pressure, or similar loads during sterilization in autoclaves.

Unexpectedly High Total Costs 

Every healthcare facility must be willing to invest in tags, software, maintenance of the RFID infrastructure, and staff training to ensure an efficient implementation of the RFID system. Whether the introduction of RFID is worthwhile remains unanswered for many institutions today. However, an RFID tag costs an average of 5 cents to $ 10 a piece, the cost increases in large quantities. Hospital administration should carefully plan how to implement the intelligent IoT solution at different levels, as it will change internal processes and influence IT and business strategies. In some cases, it may be necessary to seek advice.

Potential Cyber ​​Security Risks              

The collection and processing of sensitive health data is a serious problem for both health care providers and patients. Transferred data should be stored in secure databases by the rules of the GDPR and protected against misuse. 

Another difficulty is that information security is a relatively new area for security professionals, and studies in this area are still needed. At first glance, it seems that the data on the movement of hospital items is unlikely to arouse much interest among cybercriminals. But that’s not true: this data is recorded and stored with patient and health data. And in this case, we are talking about a special type of data subject to data protection to a considerable extent.

In A Nutshell

RFID and IoT help optimize error-prone manual asset management in hospitals, increase patient safety, and reduce time and costs. Automatic asset tracking offers enormous potential for locating medical devices and a wide variety of items and consumables used in every hospital: gloves, towels, blankets, clothing, instruments, and tools, etc.

 The list of advantages is impressive:

  • Increased transparency in the localization of medical devices and other objects.
  • Detection of bottlenecks in-hospital processes.
  • They are reducing and preventing loss and theft on hospital premises.
  • Encouraging investment in healthcare news

It should also be mentioned that intelligent asset tracking requires an appropriate infrastructure – devices for RFID tracking and a secure IoT system. The system provides data collection, storage, processing, and analysis (including advanced analytics). It enables hospital staff and administration to locate and control medical devices and objects via special mobile and web apps. But to ensure a smooth rollout of the smart solution, certain challenges and concerns also need to be considered.

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