News | June 28, 2006

RFID Progress In Healthcare And Pharmaceuticals

RFID can help with a wide variety of problems in healthcare from the fact that 10% of patients suffer an "adverse event"; 50% of patients take their medication incorrectly and up to 15% of hospital assets by value are lost or stolen every year. RFID can help with the fact that drug counterfeits are increasing in number and even appearing in legitimate supply chains. For example, Viagra is heavily prone to counterfeiting, and using RFID Pfizer aim to tackle this problem. Viagra is manufactured in France and the bottles made for the US are tagged there using Tagsys HF (13.56MHz) tags. Tim Marsh, who will be presenting at the IDTechEx conference on the latest progress with this project, reports that they have spent $5m so far on the project.

In Europe, Stora Enso are item level tagging drugs for Orion Pharma and the British National Health Service (NHS) have used RFID to tag medical instruments in hospitals. LifeForce immune System Bank seek to use RFID with sensors to track and monitor blood.

Rapidly growing market and disruptive technologies

The market for RFID tags and systems in healthcare will rise rapidly from $90 million in 2006 to $2.1 billion in 2016. Primarily, this will be because of item level tagging of drugs and Real Time Locating Systems (RTLS) for staff, patients and assets to improve efficiency, safety and availability and to reduce losses.

A plethora of new product developments are transforming the scene. There is still much discussion on the most suitable frequency for RFID in healthcare, with many preferring HF after successful pilots. Recently there has been progress with near field UHF tags where these work more effectively compared to far field UHF around "difficult" substances such as fluids and metal – typically found at item level in many pharmaceutical products. Big question marks still remain however, such as if and how UHF effects the chemical composition of the medicine itself and even if it could interfere with pace makers. At RFID Smart Labels Europe an expert panel including TagSense, Avery Dennison, IDTechEx and Tagsys will evaluate these different frequencies.

At the other extreme, Real Time Locating Systems – usually a form of "active" RFID where there is a battery in the tag now can operate over WiFi networks. Some even use Ultra Wide Band for location accuracy to within a few inches. These systems locate staff and assets in real time and are used when a nurse calls for help or a tag on equipment senses it is being misused or stolen. Over 100 hospitals have adopted this system, variously for patients, staff and assets, in the last year. Companies such as UbiSense and Aeroscout, speaking at the event in the one day Active RFID track, will cover such solutions and implementations.

All these companies – and many more from healthcare and other sectors – will be presenting at the seventh annual RFID Smart Labels Europe event in London on September 19-20.

Register early and save! For further information on the healthcare market, read the new IDTechEx report "RFID in Healthcare 2006-2016" at