Hospital finds a bloody good RFID application

RFID tags and readers most commonly are associated with tracking goods in manufacturing and warehousing, but hospitals are starting to apply RFID for a new purpose: tracking blood.

At Italian hospital Ospedale Maggiore in Bologna, Dr. Daniele Luppi says patients last month began wearing RFID-based wristbands, each containing a unique alphanumeric code.

"A similar RFID module embedded in adhesive labels is used for identifying the request form for blood units and operators," the transfusion specialist says.

A pocket-based computer called the Palmed, an RFID reader that can be used only after a fingerprint-based biometric authentication is completed, can read the identifications of the patient and the blood unit being used in any transfusion.

If the unique identifiers on the patient and the blood unit are a match, a wireless electronic seal on the blood unit is released, permitting the transfusion to occur. The check for the correct match is made through a server running software from Italian firm Tiomed, which designed the system for the hospital using RFID technology from U.S.-based SkyeTek.

Using RFID as a fail-safe mechanism in blood transfusion improves security because in the past, accuracy has always relied on "the attention of the operator," Luppi says. "Human attention does not remain constant over time." The RFID-based mechanism prevents human error that can turn into "serious incidents," she says.

Sonia Rubertelli, operations manager at Tiomed, says European laws require the tracking of blood transfusions from donor and blood bank to patient, and the Tiomed's RFID-based transfusion safety system also helps in automating information related to tracking the blood supply.

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