Information processing is the cornerstone of patient safety and healthcare quality. In the current healthcare system, critical gaps exist in the collection of vital information from patients and transferring that information to healthcare providers. The information collection problems are particularly challenged in patients lacking verbal communication or under other serious conditions. Information handover among medical staff can also introduce human errors which may place a patient’s health and life at risk. Radio frequency identification (RFID) is a kind of electronic identification technology that is becoming widely deployed. RFID technology allows crucial personal information to be saved in a lowcost chip attached to the patient. This innovative technology has tremendous potential to improve patient healthcare quality by eliminating human errors and ambiguity presented during patient-physician and physician-physician interactions.
Aging population and sedentary lifestyle are fueling the prevalence of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, hypertension and diabetes. According to the World Health Organization’s statistics, millions of people suffer from obesity or chronic diseases every day.
Patients are brought to hospitals with various health problems. The most critical health problems may deprive the patient of the ability for verbal communication. Each year in Canada, about 9,000 new brain stroke (blockage in arteries that supplies blood to certain areas of the brain or the rupture of these blood vessels) cases are consulted by physicians at acute care clinics nation-wide. Providing treatment within the first 3 h after the onset of stroke symptoms is highly emphasized within the new Canadian Best Practices Recommendations for Stroke Care guideline issued by the Canadian Stoke Strategy . Generally, people suffering from a stroke often fail to communicate clearly with medical staff during the hospital visit as verbal communication disruptions are the second most common stoke syndrome. As a result, the difficulty in collecting reliable information from patients often leads to treatment delivery at times beyond the critical phase [1,2]. Furthermore, approximately 1.9 million Canadians were diagnosed with diabetes in 2005–2006. In diabetic-associated hospital visits, one third of patient treatments are delayed due to the difficulty in identifying patients’ illness history and medication history . The situation is even worse when patients are under the attack of coma, either caused by sudden change of sugar level (hypoglycemic and hyperosmolar coma) or build-up of toxic chemicals (ketoacidotic coma) in the blood stream. Moreover, there is a high prevalence of diabetes within the senior population (23 % in 75–79 age group) . This compounds diabetic-related communication disabilities when combined with the fact that the senior population is also at a high risk of developing mental problems such as dementia (severe impairment or loss of intellectual capacity and personality integration, due to the loss of or damage to neurons in the brain) . The leading cause of dementia in Canada is Alzheimer’s disease, which has reported prevalence rates of 5.1 and 21 % in population groups over the age of 65 and 85 years respectively . Interruptions in the communication ability of young Canadians can be due to trauma as unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death in Canadians under the age of 45. Physical and mental shocks caused by a trauma, such as motor vehicle crashes, drowning, falls, poisoning and burns will lead to the temporary memory loss of victims and lack of communication abilities. In lucky cases where patients can still make conversation with medical staff, information provided by them is often vague and incoherent . Failure to identify allergies to medications is another area in which miscommunications can be fatal. Approximately 2–3 % of hospitalized children in Canada are allergic to penicillins, a prominent class of antibiotics . Among these penicillin-allergic patients, 1 % have hypersensitive reactions and as such even a miniature dose of penicillin used for skin test can claim the life of the patient. Thus, it is crucial for a penicillin-allergic patient to advise a healthcare provider about his/her allergy history . However, this process is often unsuccessful in the real world. Reliable and low-cost solutions are urgently needed to save and report patients’ medication and allergy histories during their hospital visits.
With the rapid advances in electronics, electromechanics, and nanotechnologies, radio frequency identification (RFID) technology has opened up new frontiers in the race to conquer the information collection problems in healthcare. A tiny embedded RFID tag can “tell” the backend system accurately to shorten the critical gaps that currently exist during the collection and subsequent handover of the vital patient information. The RFID tag can hold and transmit hundreds of bits of information with a simple transmit chip and an antenna. The identification information can be saved in an RFID tag which can be attached to an object. Information can be read with a radio frequency reader. RFID has been used in the healthcare field to improve the effectiveness of operating room and tracking blood samples [10,11]. The impact of applying RFID technology to healthcare applications in order to improve patient care is appealing.
In this article, we explore how RFID technology can be deployed for electronic Health (eHealth) systems and we provide an overview of the various issues that arise with the use of such a technology.
The rest of the paper is organized as follows. Section 2 briefly describes RFID technology. Section 3 discusses how RFID technology can support healthcare environments through our proposed RFID infrastructure and Sect. 4 evaluates its impact on a patient’s life cycle. Section 5 overviews some typical RFID-enabled healthcare applications. Section 6 discusses various challenges and open issues that must be addressed to leverage RFID support in healthcare applications. Finally, Sect. 7 provides some concluding remarks.
2 RFID technology
Radio frequency identification (RFID)  is a radiofrequency (RF) electronic technology that allows automatic identification or locating of objects, people, and animals in a wide variety of deployment settings. In the past decade, RFID systems have been incorporated into a wide range of industrial and commercial systems including: manufacturing and logistics, retail, item tracking and tracing, inventory monitoring, asset management, anti-theft, electronic payment, antitampering, transport ticketing, supply-chain management, etc .
A typical RFID system consists of an RFID tag, an RFID reader, and a backend system. With a simple RF chip and an antenna, an RFID tag can store information that identifies the object to which it is attached. There are three types of RFID tags, i.e., passive tags, active tags, and semi-active tags. A passive tag obtains energy through RF signals from an RFID reader, while an active tag is powered by an embedded battery, which enables larger memory or more functionalities. Though a semi-active tag communicates with RFID readers like a passive tag, additional modules can be supported through an internal battery. When the semi-active tag comes within the proximity of a RFID reader, the information stored in the tag is transferred to the reader, and onto a backend system, which can be a computer employed for processing this information and controlling the operation of other sub-system(s).
RFID technology has tremendous potential in improving healthcare delivery in both hospital and home environments. In RFID-based eHealth systems, RFID enables remote identification and tracking of patients, staffs, drugs, and equipment. It could speed up or eliminate many manual operations and increase safety by, for example, tracking drugs along the supply chain and verifying their compliance with patient’s medical history. Moreover, RFID-integrated systems would be able to optimize workflow, and provide support for dynamically managing personnel, equipment and medicines stock.