Many medical centers throughout the United States and around the world are deploying Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology to improve patient care and health care business processes. RFID tags are helping hospitals to better track inventory (such as automated external defibrillators and EKG monitors), assets (such as medical tools and medications), patients and professional staff.

RFID tags are now being placed on all sorts of medical equipment, such as ventilators and medication infusion pumps, so that these can be immediately located in an emergency. Smaller items, such as surgical sponges, are also being tagged so that they cannot be inadvertently left inside a patient when a surgical incision or wound is closed.

RFID technology also is reducing medical errors in other ways. For example, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, recently automated its process of tracking biopsy specimens taken during endoscopy procedures. These specimens previously were labeled by hand, and many errors were made. After it installed an RFID-based labeling and tracking system, the Mayo Clinic reduced the error rate from 9% to 1%(based on a comparison of samples taken during the first three months of 2007, when the old system was in place, to the first three months of 2008, after the RFID-enabled system was installed).

The growing use of RFID technology to track patients and employees has caused privacy experts to warn medical facilities to ensure that personally identifiable information and personal medical data are not improperly released or made accessible for nefarious uses. Requiring staff to carry tags also raises the specter of undue surveillance. As RFID technology use in health care facilities proliferates, legislation aimed at these privacy concerns will move to the fore.