RFID can disrupt medical tech, claim researchers

Dutch scientists say electromagnetic interference generated by the track-and-trace chips can disrupt medical devices, posing a threat to patients

Radio frequency ID, or RFID, technology can interfere with medical equipment, according to a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study by six Dutch scientists has found electromagnetic interference (EMI) generated by the track-and-trace chips has the potential to cause disruption to medical devices, posing a potential hazard to patients.

RFID-tagged wristbands are currently used in some hospitals to ensure the correct procedures are carried out on patients. But the future of healthcare is likely to involve far more RFID-style technology, according to a recent report by Ofcom, which included a prediction that in-body and on-body wireless networks could become the norm for monitoring patients over the next decade.

The Dutch scientists looked at both active (that is, information transmitting) and passive (that is, requiring a reader device) RFID systems and found 34 'incidents' were triggered out of 123 EMI tests. Twenty-two of those incidents were classed as 'hazardous', two as 'significant' and 10 as 'light', according to a critical-care adverse-events scale. The average distance between the RFID reader and the medical device in all the EMI incidents was 30cm.

Passive RFID systems caused more incidents than active signals: 26 incidents in 41 EMI tests (63 percent), compared to eight incidents in 41 EMI tests (20 percent).

A report abstract states: "In a controlled, non-clinical setting, RFID induced potentially hazardous incidents in medical devices. Implementation of RFID in the critical-care environment should require on-site EMI tests and updates of international standards."

The tests took place during May 2006 at the Academic Medical Centre in the University of Amsterdam using an active 125kHz RFID system and passive 868MHz RFID system in the proximity of 41 medical devices in 17 categories with 22 different manufacturers. Three tests were carried out on each piece of medical equipment.

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