RFID Systems in Healthcare

Abstract

The RFID expertise is an upcoming concept, although it has been in operation since the 1940s. In the recent past, healthcare facilities have invested huge resources to examine and expand the phenomenon with the view of adapting it to meet the rising patients and medical practitioners’ demands that include patient protection, efficient service delivery, and the need for availing advanced and precise diagnosis and treatment. The adoption of RFID is expected to enhance productivity among healthcare professionals. The study results show that RFID technology has both advantages and disadvantages in healthcare settings. The benefits include enhancing patients’ safety, saving time, and boosting inventory management. The drawbacks include its breaching of patients’ privacy and its ability to function against a patient outside the healthcare setting. However, the study recommends the adoption of the RFID concept since its pros outweigh the cons. In conclusion, the study suggests the need for healthcare practitioners to be informed about the impact that such technology may have on their esteemed clients and the facilities’ image in case it breaches patients’ privacy rights.

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Introduction

The goal of all healthcare professionals is to offer services that satisfy the needs of all patients in a timely and cost-effective manner. It is crucial to note that no medical practitioner wishes to leave any patient unattended to, irrespective of the healthcare facility he or she chooses to visit. This situation explains the logic behind the many technologies that hospitals are equipped with to ensure that quality and speedy services are delivered to patients. Health facilities have invested heavily in training medical practitioners to be on par with the ever-changing technology requirements in the sector. However, a question emerges concerning the effectiveness of some of the technologies adopted to serve patients.

In this case, it is imperative to point out that each technology has its advantages and disadvantages and that if the pros outweigh the cons, it is considered worth adopting in the healthcare sector. This paper focuses on the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technique that was solely introduced to the healthcare sector based on its capacity to help in tracking patients’ progress and/or identifying individuals and other paraphernalia instantaneously, as opposed to the conventional approaches where such tasks took an extended time to be accomplished using labor-intensive means. However, as the paper reveals, although the technology has been hailed for its effectiveness in rendering services in the healthcare sector, it has several limitations that range from functioning against the patient to its interference with patients’ privacy rights.

Methods

Studies that addressed the subject of RFID’s benefits and drawbacks in the healthcare setting were examined. Several keywords, including “RFID”, “health”, “patient”, “practitioner”, “safety”, “privacy”, “inventory”, and “time”, were used to guide the search. To investigate the issue of the advantages and disadvantages of the RFID technology, the searched sources were analyzed based on their relevance to the current study.

Results

The study found 10 sources that contained information concerning the advantages and disadvantages of the RFID systems in healthcare.

Advantages of the RFID Technology

Patient Safety

One of the key agendas in the healthcare sector is to enhance patient safety. According to Ajami and Carter, the use of RFID technology bolsters patients’ safety (445). Gartshore et al. examine how health professionals have recently delved into investigating the subject of patient safety with the aim of unraveling mechanisms that can be adopted to eliminate or reduce the number of reported medical errors (1). In other words, this study implies that patients in the pre-RFID era had a fair deal of misdiagnosis or even wrong surgical operations and medications, owing to the lack of a tool that could guarantee their safety in terms of the services they sought from medical practitioners to address their health predicaments. Hence, the entry of the RFID concept is a breakthrough that has helped to seal this patient safety loophole. According to Ajami and Carter, the RFID technology facilitates the “identification and verification of the sick people, patient tracking, the tagging of surgical instruments, the security of newborn, specimen management, and speeding up medical treatment” (445).

Managing patients in a healthcare facility is a challenging task, especially if the medical practitioner wants to be updated on their (patients) whereabouts such as their movement and location. In this case, mentally incapacitated patients or any other sick individual may be exposed to the risk of disappearing from a hospital without trace or even accessing unauthorized places, especially when they are not well supervised. This safety issue has been addressed using the RFID technology since healthcare officers can now control patients’ movements or locate them from wherever they may be within or outside the facility. Having this information enhances timely patient attendance. Ajami and Carter’s research reveals patient safety as the principal reason why many hospitals in the U.S. have adopted the RFID concept (446). Patient safety is also enhanced via the administration of unexpired drugs. According to Schwartz, the implementation of the RFID technology has helped pharmacists in capturing information concerning the expiry dates of various drugs that are administered to patients. This way, technology guarantees patient safety by ensuring that only the right and updated drugs are given to patients. In other words, errors that were initially associated with wrong and/or expired drug administration have now been considerably minimized, thanks to the introduction of the RFID phenomenon in the healthcare sector.

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Time-Saving

Time is a very precious resource not only in healthcare settings but also in other industries. Missing on time may be a matter of life and death, especially when it comes to attending to a patient in a critical condition. Some of the causes of deaths reported in hospitals result from delayed medical attention. As Long et al. reveal, “Most RMSF deaths are attributable to delayed diagnosis and failure to initiate specific microbial therapy within the first 5 to 6 days of illness” (965). This finding points to the need to embrace a technology that can help to save time in a health facility while availing opportune quality services. Conventional medical practitioners had a huge deal of things to do in the process of administering services to patients. For instance, they needed to note down or check patients’ information (age and health history among others) in physical documents, liaise with other parties concerning medicine administration, or even seek further assistance in case patients’ files were missing. The adoption of RFID technology has substantially helped in saving this precious resource, thus allowing health care providers extra time with patients (Long et al. 966).

In other words, it bolsters the patients’ care. According to Finch, the RFID expertise can handle many activities concurrently. Besides locating tags in less than a millisecond, it can operate automatically, hence saving healthcare professionals the task of spending excess time searching information manually. It is crucial to point out that the amount of time that patients spend with their respective healthcare givers determines their recovery rate (Mitchell 225). In her study, Mitchell investigates the difficulties that elective day surgery medical doctors go through, especially when it comes to interacting or orally communicating with the extremely escalating number of patients in need of health professionals’ timely services (225). This situation informs Wentz’s study that emphasizes the need for the establishment of technologies that can help to free healthcare providers for them to have time with their patients, hence enhancing their recovery levels (13). Although Wentz does not specify any tool, it is implied that RFID is among the concepts that he envisions when he says, “The future is technology” (13). Hence, the issue of adopting RFID to save time in hospitals is key since it enables medical practitioners to have sufficient interactions with patients. This situation translates into healthcare providers’ productivity because the time they spend taking medical records or locating any misplaced items that are otherwise needed to enhance service delivery is spared, thanks to the RFID technology.

Perfect Inventory Management

RFID technology also enhances inventory management. The concept allows healthcare experts to access the necessary working gadgets any time they are needed. In a healthcare setting, the RFID technology paves the way for personnel who are tasked with admitting or treating patients to be informed about the availability and the number of vacant beds or motorized wheelchairs, including any other crucial paraphernalia, a situation that guarantees prompt delivery of services to patients. According to Turri et al., one of the major functions played by the RFID concept is, “the management of inventory and improvement of supply chain efficiency” (329). Upon benchmarking from the results attained by giant companies such as Wal-Mart and Procter & Gamble, thanks to their adoption of the RFID technology, it suffices to deduce that the concept can cut inventory levels by almost 80% in hospital settings, owing to the capacity of the tool to contain virtually all information needed in the facilities (Turri et al. 329).

According to Ajami and Carter, inventory administration is among the principal elements of running a healthcare facility (444). Inventory management focuses on answering questions concerning what or which items are available, their numbers or quantities, the people in-charge, their current locations, and/or the right time to procure more products. Since it may be impossible to avail such data just whenever it is required without the help of technology, RFID comes in handy in ensuring that this crucial patient or facility-based information is made available not only where it is expected but also at the right time (Ajami and Carter 445). However, although the expositions made so far present the RFID technology as a huge breakthrough in the health sector, it is equally important to mention that the concept comes with major drawbacks that have to be considered when procuring or using the concept.

Disadvantages of the RFID Technology

Contravenes Patients’ Privacy Rights

One of the major challenges with the RFID technology revolves around its interference with patients’ privacy rights. Patients need to have their sensitive personal or health details concealed unless they consent to have them divulged in unavoidable situations. Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering is an American movement that established the RFID “Right to Know Act of 2003” (Turri et al. 332). The policy demanded businesspeople to introduce labels specifying all products that had the RFID chips to safeguard clients’ privacy privileges. This situation points to the consequences that divulging personal information without the owner’s approval may have on an organization. In other words, this breach of patients’ privacy rights may lead to huge penalties as stipulated under the HIPAA Privacy Rule (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services).

For example, an expectant woman may wish to have her pregnancy information hidden from the public. She may opt to attend a hospital for a checkup where she is required to provide several documents or items to the health provider to enhance service delivery. However, if the practitioner decides to deploy the help of the RFID technology to speed up the accessibility of the information being sought, he or she may end up capturing other details such as the client’s phone information or email address (Turri et al. 335). Such information is captured without the patient’s approval, a situation that contravenes her privacy rights. In some situations, ill-driven service providers end up exchanging such details with other willing business people who use the data to enhance their product promotion agenda. Hence, as Ajami and Rajabzadehit reveal, using the RFID technology requires medical practitioners to safeguard patients’ personal data to the best of their interests (809).

Functioning Against the Patient

From another angle, cases have been reported whereby medical practitioners unintentionally deploy the personal details retrieved with the help of the RFID concept against their patients (Turri et al. 335). For instance, in the course of their treatment, a health provider may recommend medications that a patient needs to carry on a daily basis to his or her place of work with the view of ensuring that each dose is taken at the prescribed time. However, the patient may be called for an interview in another organization that uses the RFID concept in its operations. Some institutions regard health as a factor that influences the chances of a candidate securing a job with them. Hence, it is possible that the availability of the medications in the applicant’s bag or pouch will trigger the company’s RFID to capture confidential details, hence negatively affecting the chances of him or her getting the offer, despite having the required qualifications. In other words, according to Turri et al., the RFID technology may be detrimental to patients’ life outside the hospital settings, especially if they (patients) happen to possess items whose information may be captured without their awareness (353).

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Conclusion

The RFID technology has helped a great deal in terms of enhancing patient safety, saving time, and reducing the level of inventory in health facilities. During the pre-RFID era, nurses and other health officers had to handle substantial documents containing data for thousands of patients. Retrieving information for a particular patient was a tedious and time-consuming process that compromised service delivery. However, with the RFID in place, caregivers can access patients, products, or any facility-related information in real-time. Nonetheless, the technology has its cons that include its infringement on patients’ privacy privileges and/or paving the way for the RFID to function against patients outside the healthcare facilities. This situation calls for the need for health practitioners to be informed about the impact that the RFID may have in case it contravenes patients’ privacy rights to the extent of disadvantaging their life outside the health facilities’ settings.

Works Cited

Ajami, Sima, and Michael Carter. “The Advantages and Disadvantages of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) in Health-care Centers; Approach in Emergency Room (ER).” Pak J Med Sci, vol. 29, no. 1, 2013, pp. 443-448.

Ajami, Sima, and Ahmad Rajabzadeh. “Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Technology And Patient Safety.” Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, vol. 18, no. 9, 2013, pp. 809-813.

Finch, Carol. “Advantages & Disadvantages of RFID.” Techwalla, Web.

Gartshore, Emily, et al. “Patient Safety Culture in Care Homes for Older People: A Scoping Review.” BMC Health Services Research, vol. 17, 2017, pp. 1-11.

Long, Sara, et al. Principles and Practice of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. Elsevier Health Sciences, 2017.

Mitchell, Mark. “Day Surgery Nurses’ Selection of Patient Preoperative Information.” Journal of Clinical Nursing, vol. 26, no. 1, 2017, pp. 225-237.

Schwartz, Ephraim. “Hospital Boosts Health Safety with RFID.” MobiHealthNews. 2014, Web.

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Turri, Anna, et al. “Privacy and RFID Technology: A Review of Regulatory Efforts.” The Journal of Consumer Affairs, vol. 51, no. 2, 2017, pp. 329-354.

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. “The HIPAA Privacy Rule.” Health Information Privacy, Web.

Wentz, Jennifer. “Freeing up Facetime.” Central Penn Business Journal, vol. 33, no. 8, 2017, pp. 1-13.

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StudyCorgi. (2020, December 29). RFID Systems in Healthcare. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/rfid-systems-in-healthcare/

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"RFID Systems in Healthcare." StudyCorgi, 29 Dec. 2020, studycorgi.com/rfid-systems-in-healthcare/.

1. StudyCorgi. "RFID Systems in Healthcare." December 29, 2020. https://studycorgi.com/rfid-systems-in-healthcare/.


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