Is Passive RFID Really an Option for Active RFID?

Posted by: Kenny Schiff on May 26, 2010

As is the case most of the time, healthcare customers don’t really care whether they have active or passive RFID technology only that it solves their business problem. The only time they begin to care is when they realize the tag and infrastructure expense and consider the real return on that investment. In addition to the tags, all RFID solutions require varying degrees of sensing technology to be layered on top of the existing environment. This often opens up a complex set of issues for facilities, IT and the clinical staff. For both passive and active, the value proposition gets challenged when looking at the growing need for infrastructure. The big attraction to passive RFID is the much lower cost and often disposable nature of the tags as compared to active tags that can be in the $40 each and up range. However, passive becomes an impractical option when granular location identification is required.

So what are some good examples of passive RFID in healthcare and what should you look out for? First, think of passive RFID as EZ-Pass in a hospital. The technology is very good for capturing the incidents of a tag that passes by it and when. It does not do a good job of knowing your location on the highway or bridge after you pass the toll. This is where active works well.

Here are some good examples of passive RFID in a hospital :

  • Patient elopement (walk-outs) in the ED.
  • Equipment containment within a floor or a unit
  • Securing equipment at entrances and exits.
  • Tracking cardiac catheters in and out of inventory.

So, what should you be aware of prior to exploring a passive RFID solutions?

  • The big issue is that if you begin to tag equipment, it’s likely that you will not be applying an active tag in the future. It’s certainly possible, but highly unlikely for the next few years.
  • Make sure that the technology you choose can detect motion and directionality. Up until recently, passive RFID systems could only tell if there was a tag within its reading zone. Given the use case, you’ll want to know if someone is going out, or going in and also whether the tag is moving or just happen to be near the reader.
  • Choose tags wisely. It’s a bit of an art to determine the right tag for different applications. Factors such as metal content, water content, distance and orientation to antenna all play in determining the right tag solution.
  • Know what you are going to do with the data collected. Example: Do you need an audible alarm each time an IV pump walks off the ICU? Or maybe to record the event? Do you need security to get an immediate message that a wheelchair leaves the building? Or maybe the control center should get a pop-up on their screen.

There’s no question that active RFID is much more evolved in healthcare applications. There are many active RFID vendor solutions that are well documented. Awareness and education of another possible solution could save you time and money.

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2 Responses to “Is Passive RFID Really an Option for Active RFID?”

  1. Greg B
    May 27, 2010

    This article title does not make much sense to me.
    First of all I do not consider passive to be RTLS ie real time solution due to obvious range limitations, also infrastructure costs, passive portals are much more expensive that active readers and active readers will have a greater range, so infrastructure costs can be higher with passive (I have seen this many times). Yes passive tags are cheaper but active tags certainly fo not cost $40 and up, our active tags start at $18.50 and have an effective battery life of 5-7 years and even then the battery can be replaced.

    Of course passive technology can solve some business problems in the healthcare space, but it does not remove the human error in collecting data nor does it remove the necessity for and cost of manual labor to collect this data due to the low range of passive readers. So no, IMO passive RFID is not an option for active RFID…


  2. Bill
    May 28, 2010

    Greg:
    Thanks for your comments. I agree that passive is not an RTLS solution but is lumped in with the broadly used “RFID” class of technology. And perhaps I wasn’t as clear as I could have been.

    Active RTLS has a much higher value proposition when looking at workflow and real time tracking. If a customer has very few ingress/egress stations and only wants to capture a tag passage, this is an area where passive may be the better solution. This may be short sighted, but it’s what we often encounter. I agree that portals can be expensive (2-4X’s the cost of active readers in many cases), but can make business sense when extremely fast read rate and lower profile tags are important.

    Glad to hear that your tag prices are very affordable. This will help the industry adopt these solutions.



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