Dec 17 2020

How RFID Solutions Improve Safety During COVID-19

By tracking equipment, vaccine temperatures and even hand-washing protocols, the technology can address a range of critical needs.

Hospitals can take advantage of RFID-enabled technology to better manage patient and employee safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. The tiny tags have big potential. 

RFID tools, which use wireless communication to identify and track assets and equipment, have seen strong adoption in healthcare in recent years. They’ve been used to keep tabs on people — digital bracelets attached to a newborn’s ankle, for instance, can alert care teams if a baby is removed from the nursery.

Now, as the public health emergency continues, RFID is driving efficiency and accountability for care teams. 

Two RFID experts from the School of Management at Université du Québec à Montréal — professors Ygal Bendavid and Yasmina Maïzi — shared new and expanded use cases with HealthTech. 

1. Better Management of Scrubs and Protective Apparel

Scrubs, distributed via machines and cabinets, can be tagged with RFID trackers to help organizations manage inventory, which can save money and improve safety. When COVID-19 began, some clinical workers hoarded scrubs, resulting in shortages. Some hid extra supplies in their lockers, which could ultimately contaminate the items. 

Because distribution machines automatically dispense scrubs, staff aren’t rifling through the stock to find their correct sizes. The machines also require users to return an equal amount of scrubs to receive new ones in return, thus avoiding low stock.

2. Ensuring Hand Hygiene Protocols Are Followed by Staff

Regular and thorough hand-washing is essential to improving infection control, both in the case of COVID-19 and other communicable diseases. Hospitals can use RFID to track whether clinical staffers are adhering to this important practice. 

By installing an RFID reader at a hand-washing station that can read badges or tags on healthcare workers’ uniforms, leadership teams can use that information to track when and how often employees are washing their hands.

3. Identifying Delays and Efficiencies at COVID-19 Testing Sites

Some patients wait hours to be seen at a testing center. By using RFID to track patients through the process, providers can identify the causes of bottlenecks and address them.

RFID may also be used for inventory management at busy mobile testing sites. By tagging specimens and supplies, teams can get a better idea of the whereabouts of in-demand equipment and also identify items in need of replenishment.

4. Precise Temperature Monitoring of Vaccines

The news of several COVID-19 vaccines has brought relief as well as logistical challenges, including storage. In the case of Pfizer’s, the doses must be kept at a frigid minus 70 degrees Celsius (for context, that’s colder than winter in Antarctica). 

When vaccines reach a facility, providers could deploy RFID tags with sensors to make sure the critically important supplies are kept at the right temperature, so no dose is wasted.

5. Data Collection to Enable COVID-19 Contract Tracing Efforts

RFID badges or wristbands can be to track employee movements — a key component of effective contract tracing, which has faced issues of participation and accuracy in recent months. 

Knowing a person’s whereabouts is central to mapping an outbreak. If one employee contracts COVID-19, administrators can review that person’s records, collected via RFID, to see who they came into contact with and provide timely outreach.

6. Self-Guided Temperature Screening for Healthcare Employees

Hospitals might equip employees with RFID-based temperature-scanning key fobs. When these staffers enter a hospital, they can use assigned fobs to take their temperatures. Employees with fevers may be advised not to enter the building. 

Although an elevated body temperature isn’t a universal symptom of COVID-19, identifying febrile individuals using this and other fever-detection technologies can help contain and expedite treatment for those most likely to have and spread the disease.

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