The humanitarian benefits of deploying RFID have been making headlines over the last 12 months. While the inventory accuracy gains enjoyed by retailers from deploying RFID are breathtaking, they take a back seat when it comes to the technology’s ability to save lives.
From solutions designed to monitor drugs given to cancer patients to tagging dead bodies with RFID tags to add visibility to the organ donor supply chain, RFID is improving patient care — and saving lives — around the globe.
This week we travel to the United Arab Emirates and India, where RFID is saving lives every day by tracking medical records in a poverty stricken region.
Last fall the IEEE Humanitarian Technology Challenge launched the Individual Tracking and Records Management (RFID-ITRM) pilot in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Last week the IEEE announced that a second and larger pilot has been deployed in Ahmedabad, India, an impoverished slum community of about 100,000 people.
The RFID-based ID system is allowing health care workers to track patients in the city. Dr. Ali Zalzala, an IEEE volunteer and lead for the project, tells RFID 24-7 that the project — which distributes RFID-enabled ID cards to citizens — is improving patient care and saving lives every day.
“Prior to the system, physicians would not always remember what happened with a [patient] a week or so ago, and mistakes did happen with medication and diagnosis,” he says. “Holding patient records is making a huge change and saving life. Physicians now can look at the entire history of a patient and know if drug interaction or previous episodes may cause issues.”
To date, the India pilot has registered about 650 individuals, and 250 have been issued RFID-enabled ID cards, which allow instant access to their medical records at both clinics and remotely in the field when health care workers visit residences.
RFID-ITRM technology is helping to preventing medical errors, identifying victims of natural disasters, and tracking and monitoring diseases and outbreaks, as well as infants and vaccination history. In most cases, an electronic medical record system is installed in a local community health care center.
Members of the community are given electronic ID cards with embedded RFID chips that allow community health care workers to update their patient information into the system using mobile RFID devices that can read the patient’s ID cards. The technology continuously updates and tracks patient health records in the electronic medical record system.
The system, managed by local NGO Manav Sadhna, was deployed in a clinic in Ahmedabad in December. Community health workers provide door-to-door service and use mobile devices to identify individuals via RFID cards tagged to an individual record on the system.
“The records part of the system is providing a history of patient’s illnesses and medications, hence minimizing errors and facilitating better health care,” says Zalzala. “The RFID tracking part of the system in providing an identification mechanism and allowing field workers better interaction with clinic doctors.”
The final target for the pilot is to establish around 15 clinics in the slum, according to Zalzala. He and others involved in the project are working with a local hospital to become the central hub for outreach to these clinics. If efforts continue to be successful, the e-health system will eventually serve the entire community of around 100,000 people. Currently, it is expanding into a second health clinic in Ahmedabad, with more planned.
“Using mobile devices in the field is allowing health workers to communicate with a physician with more details in a quicker manner, and access to a patient’s record in the field is providing the worker with much needed details on site,” says Zalzala. “The record can be emailed to a hospital should the patient need to be referred on the spot
Zalzala expects to have all 15 clinics in the Ahmedabad region deployed by the end of next year. To get there, Zalzala says that more sponsors will be needed. Currently, IEEE is sponsoring the project under the IEEE Humanitarian Technology Challenge, supplying all equipment, software, and expenses. Teams of volunteers are donating their time and efforts.
Eventually, the system could become a model to improve health care for all poverty stricken nations.
“The community members are carrying the RFID cards and using them, and we expect this interest to continue,” says Zalzala. “The solution is also examining added value services (e.g. nutrition monitoring, drugs control, micro-insurance) to include on the card as part of a sustainability model. The survival of a technology is linked to the benefits it brings to the end-users.
“The design of the solution is scalable, and we are working first towards a successful completion of the implementation in Ahmedabad. At that stage, we expect to generate enough interest in this non-profit solution to attract sponsorship for other parts of India and perhaps other poverty stricken countries.”
The IEEE Humanitarian Technology Challenge, or HTC, is a part of Engineering for Change, in which IEEE is a supporter. Engineering for Change provides a forum to connect, collaborate, solve challenges and share knowledge among a growing community of engineers, technologists, social scientists, NGOs, local governments and community advocates, who are dedicated to improving the quality of life all over the world.
Click here for more information about how the state of Maryland plans to use RFID to track dead bodies and increase potential organ donations.