Six things you might not know about RAIN RFID

Impinj - Wendy Werblin

Wendy Werblin, Product Lead, Healthcare Solutions, Impinj

Hospitals are increasingly looking to RFID to help solve some of the operational challenges in healthcare. RFID solutions can provide organizations with in-depth information about the identity, location and authenticity of important assets, devices, medical supplies and people as they move around their facilities – ultimately with the goal of increasing efficiency and reducing costs. And, RFID is making life a lot more efficient for organizations and safer for the patients who depend on them.  What is RFID technology and how is it used? In this article, we’ll take a look at six things that are not commonly known about RFID.

But first, how does RFID work?

There are two main types of RFID: active RFID, which requires battery power, and RAIN RFID, which is battery-free (passive), wireless technology that uses a single, global standard (UHF Gen 2v2 or ISO/IEC 18000-63). In this article, we’ll take a look at RAIN RFID.

A RAIN RFID tag is attached to or embedded in an item. This tag contains a unique number that identifies that item. RAIN RFID readers and gateways wirelessly power and communicate with these tags and provide the connectivity between tag data and the hospital systems and software that needs the information. Readers can be held by a person, embedded in cabinets, installed in doorways, hallways or ceilings to keep track of tagged items in large spaces.

Data from the tags is sent to a software  application that analyzes the information and applies an action or designated business process. For example, once a hospital staffer moves a tagged IV pump into a designated room, a biomedical team would then be notified to pick up the pump for cleaning. By tagging all the equipment needed for a surgery, surgical staff can validate that the necessary equipment is in the room before the surgery begins.

RAIN RFID tags are less expensive than active RFID tags that require batteries. They come in many form factors from disposable to durable, can be used on metal and liquid containers, and can be made to withstand autoclave sterilzation. But often, the biggest benefit is simply that RAIN RFID tags always work. You never have to worry about a dead battery.

1. RAIN RFID can reduce hospital spending on durable medical equipment

To run a hospital you need thousands of specialized devices, each with its own set of instructions for maintenance and cleaning. It’s essential that these devices are handled properly. To keep track of all this manually is a costly chore. When equipment is in short supply, sometimes hospital personnel hide equipment so they’ll know where to find it when needed. But doing so means that hospitals end up purchasing or renting surplus equipment. This also hampers maintenance and recordkeeping, which may be necessary if problems arise down the road.

RAIN RFID allows supplies and equipment to be tagged, tracked and reported. When hospital staff can see reliable reports that show when and where items are available, they work more efficiently. Hospitals can purchase what they need, when they need it. It’s also possible to know when a device needs maintenance or cleaning; this means patients get cared for in a safer environment. What’s more: better utilization and procurement practices can lower costs by at least 20 percent and dramatically curb future expenses

There are many other uses for RAIN RFID beyond keeping an eye on equipment. It can also be used to track medications, files, supplies and even patients and staff. RAIN RFID can help ensure that medications are stored at the proper temperature and are used by their expiration dates. Other uses include ensuring that surgical equipment is at-the-ready in the operating room, managing supply inventory, streamlining billing and replenishment, monitoring hand washing protocol compliance, and tracking patient movement to study and improve wait times.

2. Data from a RAIN RFID network can be used within hospital software systems

Modern RAIN RFID systems can handle the volume of RFID data well. In fact, RAIN RFID solution provider Impinj’s software aggregates and transforms raw RAIN RFID data and only delivers the data that the hospital software application needs. This allows hospital software solutions to easily use RAIN RFID data to enhance their existing features or add in new features. And one of the advantages of using RAIN RFID is that once a hospital has implemented one solution that makes use of RAIN RFID data, adding additional systems that also use RAIN RFID data is relatively simple.

3. RAIN RFID can support improvements in patient care and staff satisfaction

Hospitals are finding patient care and staff satisfaction benefits as well. When staff can find the equipment they need when they need it, they trust the system and business process. When staff isn’t waiting or looking for equipment patient care happens faster and more efficiently, reducing wait times, the number one cause of patient dissatisfaction. By monitoring patient movements, organizations can use the data to analyze process and waiting times to improve the patient experience. Alerts can also be set up to monitor patients who may need help or supervision.

4. RAIN RFID can be implemented securely

RAIN RFID tags and readers do not contain patient-specific information. Only the application using the tag does, so as long as proper precautions are taken in the applications, there isn’t any risk from the RFID technology. Furthermore, RAIN RFID can improve privacy protection through universal re-encryption schemes for chips on tags so data can’t be discovered from the signal.

5. RAIN RFID can be used alongside most hospital equipment

RAIN RFID tags do not emit any signal until activated by a reader, so emissions are quite low compared to active RFID or RTLS (Real Time Location Systems). Typically, hospitals conduct a thorough EMI assessment to avoid any potential interference. But in general, RAIN RFID does not interfere with medical equipment certified for operation under the ISO standard[1]. Medical equipment can be operated at distances as close as one meter relative to a ceiling- or wall-mounted full-power RAIN RFID reader and not suffer from interference.  Should the medical equipment need to be operated at closer distances, the reader’s power can be turned down.

6. Hospitals are finding ROI after implementing RAIN RFID projects

An easy area that hospitals are seeing return on investment (ROI) from implementing RAIN RFID is in asset tracking. When hospitals operate efficiently with the right amount of equipment needed, they reduce capital expenses. A RAIN RFID system that tracks medication is effective in streamlining ordering and eliminating waste from over-purchasing or expired medication. Between 10 percent and 15 percent of all hospital supplies expire before they are used, leading to waste-related losses of about $5 billion a year.

To remain competitive in today’s market, companies must become more efficient. This is especially true for healthcare organizations, which are seeing costs rise exponentially. RAIN RFID technology can greatly improve efficiency across an organization’s entire operations by providing product information that boosts the bottom line. And perhaps even just as important, it improves the experience for customers and patients alike.

[1] IEC60601-1-2:2014

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