RFID vs. WiFi for Hospital Inventory Tracking Systems

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RFID vs. WiFi for Hospital Inventory Tracking Systems

We’d all like to believe that the medical equipment found in hospitals is efficiently managed, so that if we need it, it’s readily available. But apparently, that’s not always the case.

In a new report out today, ABI Research says that, at any given moment, much of the expensive equipment owned by hospitals—everything from low-tech wheelchairs to high-tech machinery—is hard to find because it’s either already being used, or is in storage. The result is that hospitals tend to over-purchase this type of inventory, and then not utilize it efficiently.

Two wireless technologies currently are vying for position to provide hospitals with better systems for managing their equipment inventories, ABI says: WiFi and active RFID (tags with internal power source).

ABI quotes analyst Sara Shah as saying that less than 5 percent of North American health care facilities are equipped with what are known in the industry as real-time locating systems (RTLSs), so the market truly is up for grabs.

The advantage of WiFi-based RTLSs, Shah says, is that most hospitals already have WiFi networks in place, and many medical devices are equipped with WiFi functionality.

“The value proposition is that they can keep their existing infrastructure and add new elements,” Shah said of WiFi-based RTLSs for hospitals, in the report.

She added that WiFi RTLS vendors such as Aeroscout, Ekahau and PanGo market their products based in part on the fact that they’re standards-based and non-proprietary. The downside of WiFi-based systems is that hospitals will need to install additional access points to bring the needed functionality to existing networks.

“On the other hand, RFID vendors such as RF Code and Radianse point to the wide application of RFID for asset tracking, and their longevity in the industry,” ABI says.

It is true that RFID technology has been around for quite a while. The Wikipedia entry for RFID says that “The technology used in RFID has been around since the early 1920s,” and “The United States Department of Defense has successfully used active tags to reduce logistics costs and improve supply chain visibility for more than 15 years.”

But, RFID tags remain controversial because some people believe their ability to efficiently track consumer goods (and, as a result, consumer behavior) poses a threat to privacy.

My first, uneducated prediction based on the ABI report and what I know about RFID and WiFi was that WiFi will win out. Why? Because WiFi seems more ubiquitous than RFID, and RFID is controversial.

But then, I did some quick research and learned that, apparently, some of the vendors ABI mentions seem unsure themselves regarding which technology will catch on for RTLS applications. For example, the introductory blurb on Aeroscout’s Web site indicates that the company’s system uses both WiFi and RFID.

The got me intrigued, so I took a quick look at the other vendors mentioned. PanGo advertises several product lines, including Active RFID Tag, which uses RFID tags and 802.11 signal to track inventory.

Of the three WiFi vendors mentioned, only Ekahau makes a point of stressing that its inventory system is based only on WiFi and not RFID. So, apparently, the issue isn’t quite as clear cut as I first thought. Maybe it will take both technologies to deploy RTLSs the work for hospitals.

I also performed a related search on Google that included both “RFID” and “Wifi” [+("health care" OR hospital) +(inventory OR "asset management") +(RFID OR wifi OR wi-fi)], and an interesting thing happened—the majority of results on the first page were about RFID-based inventory systems for hospitals, rather than WiFi.

Hmm…. So does that mean there really are more vendors out there selling RFID RTLS products for hospitals, or just that they are better at SEO than their WiFi counterparts? <wink>

The jury obviously still is out on this one. What do you think?

Feedback for RFID vs. WiFi for Hospital Inventory Tracking Systems


You should check out the Innerwireless website, innerwireless.com...it shows if a company's WiFi infrastructure is built as a utility then they're good to go...no need for guessing how many more APs will be needed and where they will go. Plus companies IW partners with can provide certain guarantees.

Great post!

Honestly, i learned nothing from this blog - can i get my two minutes back please?

I think that this is definitely the kind of technology we should see in hospitals. Wireless has a lot of potential for this sort of thing – and not only hospitals could benefit, but all kinds of business could benefit from this kind of technology. It would certainly make all sorts of warehouses a lot easier to manage – a logistics manager's dream, in fact.
As for as the hospitals go, this is excellent. Although, let's hope it doesn't come too expensively – hospitals all over the world could benefit. Including public hospitals.