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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