Studies, experts disagree over whether technology interferes with other devices
A Dutch study released in June demonstrating the dangers of radio-frequency identification technology use in hospitals is causing interference of its own.
“We’re considering RFID to improve safety, but we don’t want to introduce more risk,” says William Chamberlin, M.D., chief medical officer, University of Illinois Medical Center. “This may slow us down a bit.”
While many administrations have long been concerned that there might be interference from RFID devices, the Dutch paper quantified the issue. “It helped people understand there can be interference,” Chamberlin says.
The paper, (http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/299/24/2884?maxtoshow=&HITS=10&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&fulltext=rfid&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&resourcetype=HWCIT which appears in the June 25 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, essentially modeled a worst-case hospital scenario of an RFID system installed incorrectly. The results demonstrate that electromagnetic interference can disrupt defibrillators and other medical equipment, inducing “potentially hazardous incidents.”
Three months earlier, a clinical study (http://www.bluebeanrfid.com/) released by RFID company Blue Bean in Carmel, Ind., found the opposite, that RFID systems did not influence commonly used medical devices.
The real answer may lie in the competence of hospital management and staff.
The Cleveland Clinic, which does not use RFID in patient areas, treats new technology like new therapy—with caution, says Marc Harrison, M.D., director of medical operations.
“Hospital leadership needs to adopt a stance that embraces patient-centered innovation, but maintains a healthy skepticism and vigilance about unforeseen side effects,” he says.
John Collins, director of engineering and compliance at the American Society of Healthcare Engineering, says someone at the CIO or clinical engineering level should be in charge of managing wireless devices.
“Interference is unlikely if RFID equipment is installed correctly,” says Rick Hampton, wireless communications manager for Partners Healthcare System in Boston, but there are no absolutes he says.
If vendors claim their RFID systems are certified not to interfere with other machines, administrators should require written documentation validating these claims, most of which Hampton believes are spurious.
“Hospital management must understand [that] just because someone claims their system is safe you can’t just toss it out there without proper engineering and planning,” Hampton says.