The use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) in healthcare across the globe now accounts for almost 9% of global RFID projects, according to research by UK-based consulting firm, IDTechEx.

The researchers found that the use of the technology in healthcare has risen over the years and is now the sixth most important applicational sector for the use of RFID.

With the global market for RFID now totalling Euros 5bn now, the healthcare sector is now worth around Euros 450m. This is expected to treble to at least Euros 1.5bn by 2016.

IDTechEx’s chairman, Dr Peter Harrop, told E-Health Europe: “Healthcare assets, pharmaceuticals, disposables, staff, patients, visitors and contractors are increasingly using RFID for a wide variety of reasons including efficiency, safety- including error prevention, security – including counterfeit and theft prevention, for cost reduction and for improving levels of care and customer satisfaction."

Dr Harrop said 2006 was a pivotal year for RFID in healthcare and pharmaceutical applications. "At last there was widespread adoption of patient compliance monitoring packs in drug trials. Now on 2007, the technology is being used for more and more technology changes, especially real time location.”

The report says that there are a number of factors which are driving the growth of RFID technology, including a much stronger market demand for tracking, locating and monitoring people and things. This is driven by security, safety, cost and customer satisfaction.

Dr Harrop explained: “The primary factors creating this growth will be Real Time Location Systems (RTLS), and ubiquitous RFID sensor systems (mainly disposable), including ones in the form of Smart Active Labels (SALs). Conventional active RFID used where passive solutions are inadequate and RFID modules for mobile phones will make up the rest.”

In studying take-up of RFID, IDTechEx have spoken to almost 3500 companies in nearly 100 countries. The results of the investigations can be found at

Dr Harrop told EHE about some cases of RFID he had seen in healthcare around Europe, particularly in the pharmaceutical and pharmacy sector.

“Cypak of Sweden, makes compliance monitoring blisterpacks, and argues that for security applications, it must be possible to authenticate a claimed identity. This can prevent counterfeiting, prevent identity spoofing – ‘masquerading’ and prevent identity playback. Such authentication can be performed by challenge-response transaction, secured by advanced encryption, if necessary.

“Also, ECCT of the Netherlands has a version that is simply a laminate that goes on a regular blisterpack and this is being used in a drug trial across several European countries including the Netherlands. This sharply reduces cost and shows the way to tens of billions of drug packages yearly having the facility, particularly as the new printed electronics gets rid of the expensive silicon chip, battery etc in the older packs.”

As well as the use of these blisterpacks, which record which tablets were taken and when, active RFID has also been used throughout Europe, accounting for 3% of the 9% share of market.

Dr Harrop said: “Active RFID is now used, where there is a battery in the tag to give long range or sensing capability. Particularly popular in the last year has been the more sophisticated version of this called Real Time Locating Systems RTLS, which locate tagged items at a distance without them needing to pass near the reader electronics. About 100 hospitals adopted RTLS for either key assets or staff in the last year thanks to suppliers such as Ekahau and AeroScout.”

He adds the future of RFID in healthcare is larger than most people anticipate: “New uses for RFID in healthcare are announced every month. One company sells a system for tagging swabs which can be left in patients after surgery and not be detected by Xray. High risk patients volunteer for an RFID chip the size of a grain of rice to be injected permanently under the skin. This means they can return to a more normal life, yet, if they collapse in the street, the chip can be scanned to give full medical record including allergies so their life can be saved in the short time available. Verichip Corporation is the leading supplier and it even has a chip that monitors temperature.”



The IDTechEx RFID Knowledgebase





Verichip Corporation