-Joe Pleshek

It’s truly an exciting time to be involved in the RFID industry. It seems that with every day that goes by, more outstanding use cases for the technology unfold.

RFID continues to be deployed in meaningful applications that bring strong return on investment to the companies deploying the technology, and strong benefits to the consumer as well.

Clearly, the Internet of Things, a world where all devices are connected, is approaching quickly. A recent survey commissioned by Zebra Technologies reports that while only 15 percent of survey respondents have Internet of Things solutions in place, more than half (53 percent) plan to implement an IoT strategy within the next 24 months.

And while the report reveals that transportation and logistics industry are the leaders in the push to deploy Internet of Things solutions, conversely only three percent of healthcare organizations have unveiled solutions intended to capture the benefits of the Internet of Things.

While that is highly disappointing and reason for concern, the low number of adopters is also reason for excitement. With so many RFID solutions already in place in the medical and healthcare arena, it’s exciting to think about the future possibilities when more healthcare suppliers and providers are geared up to take better advantage of the Internet of Things.

That’s why I continue to be drawn to some of the developing applications in the medical sector, primarily because they are capable of improving and saving lives – the biggest ROI of all.

For example, massive research conducted by a public-private research group recently came to fruition when The Transfusion Medicine RFID Consortium announced last month that it is close to commercializing the RFID and barcode based Blood Product Tracking suite of applications designed and built under a private, academic, and public initiative funded by the National Institutes of Health.

The solution was thoroughly tested during a 24-week production pilot at the BloodCenter of Wisconsin and the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC). The system, consisting of mobile, desktop, and server software applications, provides greater visibility to the physical movement of blood products, while improving the efficiency of blood center operations.

When you think about the human life and medical improvements that can be made, a safe supply chain for blood-related products has to be near the top of the list. Consider that according to the American Red Cross, 16 million blood donations are collected in the U.S. each year. An RFID-enabled supply chain would allow medical personnel to keep track of each donation, assuring that donated blood is transported and stored under the proper conditions and administered to the correct patients.

The technology can greatly simplify and improve the track and trace process. Donated red blood cells must be used within 42 days of collection, for example. RFID can generate alerts when a blood bag is approaching its expiration date, reducing the amount of precious blood donations that are wasted.

RFID can also aid in tracking donated platelets that must be used within five days of collection, meaning that new donations are constantly needed. RFID even has the temperature sensitive side of things covered. Plasma and cryoprecipitate can be used for up to one year after collection when stored in a frozen state; RFID-enabled temperature control freezers can track the temperature of those stored items in real time and send an alert if the temperature deviates from the required range.

The healthcare sector continues to adopt the technology. Most recently, Stowers Institute for Medical Research partnered with Terso Solutions for an Automated Stockroom Inventory Management solution. By deploying the inventory management solution, Stowers Institute will be able to better manage current inventory, automate and increase efficiencies for the receiving department as well as researchers, and reduce issues around variances in researchers’ workflow.

The system went live this fall, and the early results have been fantastic. Close to 4,000 research products have already been tagged with passive RFID tags, including reagents and rare homemade chemicals, to more simple items like latex gloves.

Stowers Institute has invested more than $850 million into biomedical research since being founded in 2000, and is home to more than 550 researchers and support personnel, over 20 independent research programs, and more than a dozen technology development and core facilities.

The management team there recognizes that realizes that RFID is a viable tool to help manage its business and its mission to improve human health.

I love seeing developments around RFID in retail and transportation, and the emerging apps for RFID in entertainment that combine the technology with social media are fascinating. But when it comes down to it, the chance exists for RFID to usher in monumental changes in the healthcare and medical community, providing not only the opportunity to slow the pace of wildly accelerating healthcare costs, but also to saves lives.