Army taps 3M to locate medical files using RFID

Pilot project at Ft. Hood, Tx slated to start next summer

By Bob Brewin

The Army awarded 3M a $3.8 million contract to use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology to help locate paper medical records at Ft. Hood, Tx.

David Erickson said that in a demonstration project in 2001, 3M attached RFID tags to individual medical file folders and could locate a specific folder out of roughly 100 folders stored on a file shelf.

Erickson said that in the demonstration project, 3M was able to locate individual file folders out of a pool of 10,000 folders. Under the new contract, which Erickson called a pilot, 3M will use RFID tags to track up to the records of up to 150,000 service members and their families stationed at Ft. Hood.

Though the Defense Department has an ongoing project to provide an electronic health record (EHR) to 9.2 million active duty and retired personnel and Erickson said he viewed the paper record RFID pilot at Ft. Hood as a bridge between existing paper records and an all-electronic system.

Besides serving as a bridge between paper records and the DOD Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application (AHLTA), Erickson said the RFID tags will serve as are link between a service member's retrospective paper records and electronic records in AHLTA.

The DOD EHR contains current information, but not older information stored in paper records and AHLTA, Erickson said. The pilot program will evaluate whether to link paper record locations provided by the RFID tags or to store that information in a 3M database, which can then be accessed by DOD health care providers, Erickson said.

3M can locate one file folder out of thousands tagged with RFID tags due to its system architecture, which calls for installation of an RFID antenna on each file shelf, which can the feed granular location information to an RFID reader, which the feeds file ,location information to a database.

Erickson said this architecture will allow 3M to locate a medical file tagged with an RFID label anywhere on the 330 square miles of Ft. Hood.

The tags, Erickson emphasized, do not carry any personal medical information, but merely a non-identifiable label linked to a data base.

3M used high frequency tags operating at 13.56 MHz in its demonstration project and Eriksson said the pilot will evaluate the feasibility of using new industry standard tags which operated in the 900 MHz ultra high frequency band.

Erickson said 3M will determine which frequency to use by the end of this year and plans to have antennas and readers installed at Ft. Hood by mid-summer 2007.

The Army did not return calls for comment.

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