Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Healthcare RFID 360

Tonight, as I was playing with a new little gadget (RFID Reader) that allows you to logon to any windows workstation on network using RFID cards. This little device believe it or not was less than 50 dollars to purchase, it comes with an API Application Programming interface for in house programmers to create integrate with, and can be deployed in about an hour. While I would really prefer to use this with SSO (Single Sign On), but I did not mind settling for something small, simple and that can fit into a small budget. So, I experimented for a while with “TouchaTag" that a coworker recommended to me. At first, I did not see many uses of this RFID Reader on my desk, but as I dug deeper and started to see the simplicity and yet the power of using RFID, and the great potential it offers in the medical environment.

In most recent years, we are seeing a lot more use of RFID in the healthcare market place. Much of our common knowledge of the uses of RFID are usually limited to Asset Tracking, Real Time Patient/Asset location systems, and Patient identification systems.
But one challenge we face when planning to adopt the RFID technology has been the costly price tag. While in many cases the high ROI justifies the jump, it is still a huge project for any hospital to undertake. Traditionally you are required to have special RFID readers all over the place, and also the need to purchase Passive/Active tags for your assets. Interestingly there has been many new advancement in technology in the past years that not only lower the cost of acquiring these solutions, but also eliminate the need of expensive RFID readers spread all over the place and the cost of their installation.

Just imagine that you can start using Real-Time Location System (RTLS) tomorrow by only purchasing the TAGs, doing a site survey, get the software needed to running your assets/patients and voila! With the use of CCX (CISCO Certified Extensions), you can actually use the CISCO AP (Access Points) as your “RFID Antenas” to locate your Wi-Fi tags. This model allows you not only to maintain your existing CISCO Wireless infrastructure (which keeps the Executive team and budgeting team happy), but also allows for greater flexibility with the use of the many APIs that the vendors offer.

But what I am really interested in discussing today is another subject that I found very interesting. We all know that the US is few years behind Europe and some Asian countries when it comes to cell phone technology. When you are walking in downtown Paris, you can put your cell phone close to a movie poster and get all the show times for that movie, or when you are in the subway you can pay for your ticket using your cell phone. So, how is that possible, and what technology is that using, but most importantly, can that technology be useful in the healthcare environment and worth adopting.

Well, most of the new cell phones that are manufactured and shipped to Europe and Asia have a chip that provides them with NFC (Near Field Communication) capability. Believe it or not, it is using RFID technology as well. There is a number of these phones that allow you to use Near Field Communication technology that has a short-range high frequency wireless communication technology which allows you to read an RFID tag directly from your phone. Why this is important you may ask??? Well, first starters, if the technology is available, then it is only fair for us to have access to it so we can apply it to resolve different business challenges.

What I found out was that in the Nederland’s they are using this technology very effectively. Basically the home health nurse can take her cell phone and she touches the (patient's) card with it, then identification information about the patient is submitted (over the network) to the phone; contact persons, medical data, care arrangement, are exchanged between the phone and medical application on the Home health servers. Now, some may argue that it would be easier to use a laptop, access all that information on it, and use Wi-fi or Wireless Broadband to communicate, but unfortunately with the economy and high costs of this type of infrastructure makes it a less attractive option and not an impressive ROI.

So this Mobile phone technology can be applied in a hospital environment. It will be less expensive that the typical RFID installation and you will no longer be required to use the smart phones that come equipped with the bulky RFID reader anymore. Plus this technology is a simple extension of the ISO/IEC 14443 proximity-card standard. This means that care providers can identify patients and even medication details (if we tag medications with tags).

Examples of other healthcare technology companies in Europe such as Dutch electronic-monitoring company Elmo ICT Solutions introduced a similar NFC product recently and it was called MobiCare-EasyID. It has sold about 1,500 NFC phones made by Samsung.

NFC technology in mobile phone handsets can also be used to open locked doors, or to download a URL or other information from a separate NFC device, such as an NFC tag embedded in a smart movie poster.

I would like to think of a scenario that I can be walking down the street and come in contact with a lost done, use my cell phone to check a dog's embedded RFID tag to see who he belongs to and contact his/her owner.

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