RFID and Real Time Location System in Hospitals


The need to trace objects and people as fast as possible has traditionally been an integral goal of any institution, particularly healthcare organizations. Given the dramatic shift in wireless technology, many hospitals are now able to remotely trace people or objects within a short period of time. Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) are usually used to accomplish this goal. This system typically employs RFID (Radiofrequency Identification) tags appended to objects or worn by persons to track their location. RTLS systems usually map the location of the objects/persons in relation to a permanent set of coordinates. RTLS systems are exceptionally useful given the numerous problems that they can solve. For example, RTLS systems can be used to locate patients and hospital employees inwards as well as trace the location of critically needed medical types of equipment and augment the security of the hospital (Castro and Fosso 128).

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RTLS applications are based on Location Receivers or APs (Access Points) that can sense Wireless Fidelity (Wi-Fi) and gadgets within a specified region. What’s more, RTLS applications can be integrated with Ultrawide Band (UWB) to provide robust operation and efficient performance in critical multi-path settings such as hospitals. When RTLS is employed in an excellent setting (with minimal interference from other signals), it can track objects/people within a range of 1-3 meters. This range is sufficient for many applications. When the APs are cleverly placed within the hospital precinct, the area covered is hypothetically unlimited. The only condition is that each spot in the covered region must be covered by at least 3 APs. In addition, one of the access points (APs) must have a network connected to the Engine (Castro and Fosso 129).

Schrooyen and Baert assert that the adoption of fully automated systems with the capability to locate or monitor objects/persons in real-time provides numerous potential applications to hospitals (401). Some of the relevant areas of application include patient screening (improving the safety of patients); emergency management (facilitating faster and efficient emergency responses); workflow supervision (enhancing staff utilization); information dispensation (minimizing errors and enhancing workflow); and equipment supervision-decreasing the need for inventory (Schrooyen and Baert 402).

RTLS (real-time location systems) are multifaceted compared to Radiofrequency Identification (RFID) systems. A normal RTLS tag is powered via a battery and can communicate with numerous distinctive devices (Schrooyen and Baert 402). The capacity to monitor an electronic tag appended to an object or worn by a person offers numerous benefits in relation to the previous manual systems of tracking (which entailed a person physically tracking the object or person). This can result in enhanced efficiency in numerous types of organizations. For example, the implementation of RTLS in healthcare institutions (i.e. tracking assets, staff, and patients within a hospital) offers limitless benefits to not only healthcare givers but also patients. For example, many hospital administrations do not confine patients in the wards. Thus, it is not unusual to find patients wandering all through the wards, visiting canteens, or exploring hospital grounds. Nonetheless, crucial statistics for these patients are monitored constantly. The capability to remotely screen patients who move around the hospital precincts for therapeutic reasons can be enormously beneficial to not only the healthcare givers (who get notified when a patient requires attention and swiftly trace him/her within the facility) but also to patients who are able to walk freely within the hospital’s precinct (Ranky 29).

What’s more, a healthcare giver (i.e. a physician or nurse) can be easily traced within the clinic or hospital to help approximate how long the doctor on duty will take to arrive at the ward. In other words, the location and schedules of doctors all through the clinic or award can be utilized effectively to comprehend their workload in order to improve management of the ward or enhance staffing levels. It is worth mentioning that typical healthcare organizations cannot afford different mobile medical types of equipment given the high costs involved in acquiring them. Thus, when a doctor or nurse on duty needs specific medical equipment, an RTLS system can locate this item instantly. Tracking the location of these medical types of equipment can disclose where and when a specific tool is frequently used, and where pooling equipment may decrease the demand for additional medical equipment. Although some medical equipment used in hospitals are often abused or stolen, an RTLS system can be used to track and recover these types of equipment and issue security alerts when attempts are made to take them off the hospital precinct (Smith 16)

Visitor identification tags have traditionally been used to offer security for many organizations. Bar codes enable computers to monitor where and when a particular tag has passed through a scanner (normally by a door reading gadget or an entrance gate). The efficiency of these tags is nonetheless restricted by the intensity of the network readers. The moment the tag is in a secure region, no additional status information is obtainable until the tag is scanned again. RTLS system can thus improve security levels, particularly within the hospital setting. For example, the adoption of the RTLS system to a visitor or staff identification tags augments the capability to monitor and locate the movements of visitors and personnel within the hospital precinct. Thus, restricted areas can be better supervised using RTLS-enhanced ID tags worn by staff or visitors and movement detectors installed throughout the hospital facility. In addition, security personnel can (at any given period) identify and track the movement of visitors and staff within each section in order to enforce compliance with the hospital’s security regulations (Robert 19).

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The application of RSTL systems in hospital settings is limitless. For example, they can be used to mine relevant information in order to screen activities of knee and hip osteoarthritis patients on daily basis. This is advantageous since several studies have demonstrated that patients who engage in physical activities on regular basis attain improvements in disability, pain, and functionality. In addition, RSTL applications can be customized to sense and notify medical personnel of changes in the daily activities of patients since this may be a precursor to an unidentified illness. The patients can also use the alarm button to inform the medical staff about changes in their health status. The real-time monitoring function can also be integrated with the alert function to inform medical staff when patients are in potentially dangerous situations. For example, RSTL systems can transmit a signal to warn medical staff when patients wander away from safe zones within the hospital environment (Schrooyen and Baert 415).

Automatically Log in/off in Hospitals

The ability to provide real-time data and consultation to healthcare givers is one of the major aspirations of many hospitals and clinics all over the world. Whether the data to be relayed is lab data, discharge information, or practice guidelines, the principal question that needs to be addressed is: how can we relay real-time data to mobile healthcare givers in a cost-efficient way, particularly in regions where computers are scarcely accessible? It seems that PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) might offer a feasible solution to this problem (Blum and Kramer 52).

The benefits of wireless palmtop computing technology in healthcare settings seem to be considerable. Information about therapy could be acted upon swiftly without the need to physically access a computer. A healthcare giver can provide an informed answer to a question even when outside the hospital’s precinct via remote login. For example, access to MEDLINE via a handheld device (i.e. PDA) can provide responses to queries at the patient’s bedside. Precise prescribing, as well as speedy order entry into the hospital’s system, can be done from any place. As a matter of fact, the potential benefits of these gadgets seem to be boundless if utilized correctly by healthcare providers within and outside hospital settings (Kridel 64). Thus, consistent wireless connectivity offered by palmtop gadgets is feasible in hospitals using commercially accessible wide-area wireless technologies. These technologies are not only less-costly but also provide enterprise-wide access for healthcare givers to explore better ways to dispense efficient healthcare services to patients (Blum and Kramer 55).

The conventional password-based authentication system employed in various peripatetic settings poses serious security threats for many organizations (such as hospitals) in which they function. For instance, medical staffs (physicians and nurses) move around different sections of the hospital and utilize nearby computers to perform their duties. In such settings, the time spent to carry out the required login process can be considered making the medical personnel opt for other unconventional methods to evade the authentication procedure. For instance, they may resort to writing down passwords, sharing passwords use weak passwords, or even leaving computers logged on as they attend to other tasks. Consequently, confidential data can easily be accessed by unauthorized staff. In addition, the password-based authentication system (employed in clinics and hospitals) has dire financial ramifications. Physicians and nurses in hospitals spent enormous time during the login process. The dilemma in many hospitals is that the login process is not only restricted to workplace login. Hospitals have many applications to manage various facets of everyday operations. The majority of these applications demand extra login. Thus, if medical staffs need to utilize a number of these applications to carry out a simple task, the cumulative time spent on the authentication process will be enormous (Abdelhameed and Khatun 215).

The rapid technological transformation has led to the emergence of zero-interaction authentication (ZIA) system as an apt substitute for the conventional authentication system employed in dynamic computing settings such as hospitals. ZIA system alleviates physical user interface and is thus useful in a hospital setting where doctors and nurses move around the facility using various computers. There are a few wireless device-based technologies that can carry out ZIA. These technologies (i.e. RFID, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi) do not need a physical user interface as they can communicate at distances greater than 1meter (Shi and Perrig 39; Roberts 20).

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Wi-Fi technology is built on IEEE 802.11 [3.3] wireless communication platform. It is employed in WLAN (Wireless Local Area Networks to offer a safe communication link between a network access point and a handheld gadget (i.e. PDA or cell phone). In order to integrate Wi-Fi technology with the ZIA platform, each computer (capable of carrying out ZIA) must be installed with a Wi-Fi-enabled network adapter. The computer and Wi-Fi-enabled gadget (i.e. PDA) can then communicate via an ad-hoc mode. The value of utilizing ad-hoc mode is that both the computer and gadget (i.e. PDA or cell phone) can communicate directly with each other hence does not rely on an access point. Nonetheless, the communication range is one problem that emerges when the ZIA system is integrated with Wi-Fi technology. The normal maximum range (in an open environment) where communication is feasible is 100 meters. Nevertheless, this range is considerably reduced when obstacles obstruct a free line of sight. If a typical access point is utilized in communication, it is difficult to distinguish whether a person moving within a radius of 20 meters intends to use remote login. However, this dilemma can be resolved by replacing the antenna with a directional one or reducing the antenna power. It is worthy to mention that this solution is only effective in ad-hoc mode if an access point is set up adjacent to each computer (Blum and Kramer 54).

Bluetooth is a short-range wireless technology and possesses similar attributes as those of Wi-Fi technology. Bluetooth is developed to be a short-range ad-hoc communication platform that can be integrated with the ZIA system. One major benefit of Bluetooth technology is that most PDAs and cell phones have an in-built Bluetooth platform. What’s more, Bluetooth cards are easy to install on computers. Although Bluetooth is a short-range communication platform, the antenna power must face down to avert accidental login. The maximum range of communication possible via the Bluetooth platform is 10 meters. This range is enough to prevent accidental login. However, one major disadvantage of using Bluetooth-enabled PDAs or cell phones (to authenticate remote login) is that they can be forgotten, misplaced, or run dry on power thus making ZIA impracticable. Another point that merits consideration is that devices with in-built Bluetooth platforms are usually banned in dynamic computing settings such as hospitals as they can interfere with sensitive electronic tools (Castro and Fosso 129).

RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) has attracted substantial attention in the last decade. There are passive, active, and semi-active RFID tags. The last two possess an in-built power supply that grants them enhanced abilities in communication range as well as processing power. On the other hand, passive tags lack an in-built power supply and are thus powered via energy produced by the RFID interrogator. Interrogation zones (the section around the interrogator in which communication with the Radio Frequency Identification tag is feasible) are crucial with respect to ZIA technology. In case the interrogation area is too petite, the user must move the tag close to the interrogator to facilitate communication. However, in case the interrogation area is large enough, the user can be authenticated without any intention to utilize any particular terminal. One major threat associated with a big interrogation area is the possible interference with other sensitive electronic devices as well as a high probability of eavesdropping (Chan and Perrig 104).

Works Cited

Abdelhameed, Rania and Sabira Khatun. “Application of Cell-phone in Laptop Security.” Journal of Applied Sciences 5.2 (2005): 215-219. Print.

Blum, James, and M. Kramer. The Palm as a Real-Time Wide-Area Data Access Device, Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. 2001. Print.

Castro, Linda and Samuel Fosso. “An Inside Look at RFID Technology.” Journal of Technology management & Innovation 2.1 (2007): 128- 141. Print.

Chan, Haowen and Adrian Perrig “Security and privacy in sensor networks.” IEEE Journal of Computing 36.10 (2003):103-105. Print.

Kridel Tim. “What’s inside counts.” Wireless Review 17.11(2000): 64-8. Print.

Ranky, Paul. “An Introduction to Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Methods and Solutions.” Assembly automation 26.1(2006): 28-33. Print.

Roberts, Callum. “Radio Frequency Identification (RFID).” Computers & Security 25.1(2006):18-26. Print.

Schrooyen, Frederik and Isabel Baert. “Real Time Location System over Wi-Fi in a Healthcare Environment.” The Journal on Information Technology in Healthcare 4.5 (2006): 401-416. Print.

Shi, Elaine and Adrian Perrig. “Designing secure sensor networks.”Journal of IEEE Wireless Communications 11.6 (2004): 38-43. Print.

Smith, Adam. “Exploring Radio Frequency Identification Technology and its Impacts on Business Systems.” Information Management and Computer Security 1.1(2005): 16-28. Print.

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