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General Health : Drug News Last Updated: Apr 20, 2011 - 9:38:09 AM

Wireless chips may endanger patients in hospital
By Sue Mueller
Jun 24, 2008 - 3:38:03 PM

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TUESDAY June 24, 2008 ( -- Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags are commonly used on medical devices for tracking purposes. But the tags can interfere with critical care medical devices such as pacemakers and may endanger patients, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal of the American Medical Association.

The study showed that RFID tags may interfere with the function of certain medical devices and could potentially lead to serious harm to a patient aided with a critical care device.

"The study highlights the fact that we really need our healthcare system to understand technologies are always double-edged," Dr. Donald Berwick, of Harvard University's School of Public Health was quoted by ABC News as explaining.

"They can bring benefit but usually also have concurrent hazards, so we need to be sophisticated and wise about these technologies and how we use them."

For the study, researchers at Vrije University in Amsterdam tested 41 critical care medical devices including pacemakers, ventilators, IV pumps, and anesthesia machines. They moved RFID tags around each device at different distances to see if there is any interference with the device.

Of 123 tests, 34 tests showed interference with the device near which a RFID tag was moved.   Of these 34 instances, doctors rated 22 as hazardous.

In all test settings, no patients were present or involved.   Berwick said he would not recommend that the use of RFID tags be discontinued, but suggested that immediate further study should be initiated to examine if this type of interference would endanger patients who use a device which is susceptible for the interference from a RFID tag.

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