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Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) in health care: where are we? A scoping review

  • Review Paper
  • Open access
  • Published: 23 August 2022
  • Volume 12 , pages 879–891, ( 2022 )

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rfid research paper

  • Laura Profetto 1 ,
  • Monica Gherardelli 1   na1 &
  • Ernesto Iadanza   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-7291-4990 1 , 2   na1  

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(RFID) is a technology that uses radio waves for data collection and transfer, so data is captured efficiently, automatically and in real time without human intervention. This technology, alone or in addition to other technologies has been considered as a possible solution to reduce problems that endanger public health or to improve its management. This scoping review aims to provide readers with an up-to-date picture of the use of this technology in health care settings.

This scoping review examines the state of RFID technology in the healthcare area for the period 2017-2022, specifically addressing RFID versatility and investigating how this technology can contribute to radically change the management of public health. The guidelines of the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) have been followed. Literature reviews or surveys were excluded. Only articles describing technologies implemented on a real environment or on prototypes were included.

The search returned 366 results. After screening, based on title and abstract, 58 articles were considered suitable for this work. 11 articles were reviewed because they met the qualifying requirements. The study of the selected articles highlighted six matters that can be profitably impacted by this technology

The selected papers show that this technology can improve patient safety by reducing medical errors, that can occur within operating rooms. It can also be the solution to overcome the problem of the black market in counterfeiting drugs, or as a prevention tool. Further research is needed, especially on data management, security, and privacy, given the sensitive nature of medical information.

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1 Introduction

Today, the most important challenges for healthcare professionals are minimizing the impact of adverse events and improving patient safety [ 1 ]. An adverse event is defined as any complication that arises during the patient’s stay in hospital and is not directly related to the underlying disease or reason for hospitalization [ 2 ]. These events can have serious consequences for the patient, her / his family and even the health system. The concept of traceability can provide many benefits to these processes. Traceability means the identification of all information relating to a product from origin to delivery and / or consumption [ 3 ]. In the context of health services, this can be translated as the exact identification of the patient, the drug and the patient / drug relationship administered, which can significantly reduce the incidence of adverse events, thus increasing safety. Healthcare is currently facing the challenges of improving this aspect and reducing operating costs, which unfortunately are often caused by human and systematic errors. The American Institute of Medicine (IOM), recently renamed as the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) [ 4 ], estimated that between 44,000 and 98,000 deaths per year are related to medical errors occurring in hospitals, thus showing the desperate need to improve patient safety and well-being in hospitals [ 5 ]. It is possible to identify common phenomena that lead to serious healthcare operation failures in addition to medical mistakes, such as theft loss, and drug counterfeiting [ 6 ].

RFID technology is becoming more prevalent across a variety of industries, with the healthcare sector being a growing area. Indeed, the maturation of applications such as real-time locating system (RTLS) for patient tracking, medical personnel, and asset tracking will most certainly contribute to rapid expansion in the RFID industry in the future years. This market was worth USD 16.95 billion in 2016 and is expanding at a 7.7 percent CAGR between 2017 and 2023 [ 7 ].

Radio frequency identification (RFID) is one of the 16 fundamental innovations for the next decade, as stated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) which ranked it as the 10th most innovative technology of the last 25 years, for automatic data collection and traceability of goods [ 8 ]. The identification process consists in reading an RFID tag applied to an asset or a person without any physical contact. The data collection and transfer are done with the use of radio waves, so data is captured efficiently, automatically and in real time without human intervention. The advantage is that an RFID reader can read more tags simultaneously from a greater distance and therefore without the need to approach the reader, unlike traditional barcode scanning. It is therefore possible to attribute an electronic label to assets, healthcare personnel or patients, who once tagged, can be identified, tracked, and managed through a centralized database, using pervasive IT devices such as PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) or mobile phones [ 9 ].

A RFID device can have different electromagnetic transmission configurations, based on different applications, but typically includes the following components (Fig. 1 ):

Tag reader equipped with an antenna and a transceiver;

Host system or connection to a business system.

figure 1

RFID system: an RFID reader acquires information from one or some tags and transfers such information to an host system

The Tag is used to store information; each RFID tag contains an electronic integrated circuit and an antenna inside a package (capsule), which are affixed to an object with a unique identification number and a memory that records additional data relating to the manufacturer, the product type and other related environmental information [ 10 ]. The reader is used to collect all the information stored in a tag. The RFID reader consists of a decoder that decodes the information; the antenna is used to transmit and receive the RF waves that carry information from the tag to the reader and vice versa . The RFID reader can read or/and write data in the tags by reading the identifying information (IDs) of the neighboring tags and mapping them to an object through a database or an external service. The software is used to manage the received data and the reader and tag operations, it manages the information in a database [ 10 ]. The latter can also contain the details of the tags and readers. All information is sent to a host computer or RFID middleware to ensure communication between the RFID infrastructure and the various intra- and inter-organizational systems [ 7 ]. Tags can be classified into three classes: active, passive and semi-passive tags [ 10 ].

Active tags are powered by batteries and incorporate both a receiver and a transmitter, have large memories, often rewritable, and can contain sensors. They can operate at distances that are generally much greater than those of passive and semi-passive tags (maximum 200 meters) and have larger memory. The disadvantages are: high price, limited duration as they depend on the antenna and the energy available in the batteries, larger weight and dimensions than passive tags.

Passive tags do not have an internal power source, they are activated when they enter the range of action of an RFID reader, the latter generates a magnetic field that powers, and therefore activates, the chip contained in the tag. Passive tags are smaller in size, lighter in weight and low in cost and with an unlimited lifespan. Unfortunately, they have limited functionality: they have a low communication range, their information storage and computing capacity is limited.

The semi-passive tag is provided with a battery that is used only to power the internal circuit. Unlike the active tag, it communicates via the electromagnetic field created by the reader. The battery stays dormant until triggered by a signal from the reader, saving battery power and extending tag life [ 7 ].

The RFID technology can operate at different frequencies, each having its pros and cons. For the low frequency (LF) band, 125 to 134 kHz, the main advantage is the possibility of its use worldwide, indeed it is available in all major countries: Europe, North America, and Japan. The major applications related to its use are those that require the transmission of limited amounts of data over short distances. It is also affected by small interference with liquids and metals [ 11 ]. The main drawback is that ferromagnetic materials have a shielding effect on electromagnetic waves at these frequencies and therefore can cause reading problems. Furthermore, the large dimensions of the reader antennas and the reduced operational distances limit the diffusion of systems using these frequencies [ 12 ].

The high frequency (HF) band has a central frequency of 13.56 MHz, and is characterized by greater reading range and speed than the LF band. Near Field Communication (NFC), a wireless data interface between devices also works at an operating frequency of 13.56 MHz [ 13 ].

The ultra-high frequency (UHF) band is between 860MHz and 960MHz. These tags have better reading range and better data transfer compared to lower frequency bands. Increasing the frequency allows the use of smaller antennas, that are therefore suitable for portable devices. On the other side, costs are higher with this technology. Usually the different governments, through their legislation, independently manage frequency assignments. Therefore, there are differences internationally in the frequencies assigned for RFID applications even if standardization by ISO and similar organizations is helping to make them more and more compliant. For example, Europe uses 868MHz for ultra-high frequency (UHF), while the United States uses 915 MHz [ 7 ].

The RFID technology used with other technologies, such as the Wireless Sensor Network (WSN), allows to expand its functionality and create hybrid monitoring systems, based on the Internet of Things (IoT) [ 7 ]. This hybrid technique depicts a possible progression of Internet use: objects (“things”) become recognized and intelligent since they can communicate their own data and receive aggregate information from others; as a result, all items can play an active role owing to Internet connectivity [ 14 ].

“Things” or “objects” are elements such as, among others: devices, instruments, plants and systems, materials, products, works, goods, machines, and equipment. The connected objects, that are the basis of the IoT, are more properly defined as “smart objects” and are characterized by some properties or functionality. Identification, connection, localization, the ability to process data and the ability to interact with the external environment are paramount [ 14 ].

The IoT is a system consisting of three levels [ 15 ]:

Perception layer: also called “physical layer”, which identifies and collects all types of information from the physical world of the IoT, through sensors, tags, WSNs, cameras, RFID systems and so on.

Network layer: also called “transport layer”, in charge of transparent data trasmission.

Service layer: also called “application layer”, including a sub-level for data management and a sub-level for application services.

RFID technology, alone or together with other technologies, has been considered as a possible solution to reduce problems that endanger public health or for improving the management of the latter. For example, the problems related to medical waste recycling, if not managed in a safe and conscious way can cause the spread of diseases and environmental pollution, that traditional methods often fail to prevent. There are some studies aimed at finding a solution to this type of problems; some of these aim to design methods that apply reverse logistics based on RFID technology [ 16 ].

This work examines the state of RFID technology in the healthcare area in the last five years, It specifically illustrates RFID versatility and verifies how this technology can contribute to radically change the management of public health. The aspects that have an impact on the qualitative characteristics of health services relating to prevention, diagnostics and monitoring of patients’ health are considered very important.

For this work it has been chosen the Scoping Review research design to assess the current state of RFID employment in healthcare area, to have an overview of the state of the art relating to the chosen topic and to identify the problems that limit RFID use. Scoping Review is a type of research evidence synthesis that aims to detect the literature on a particular research topic or area and to provide an opportunity to identify key concepts [ 17 ]. The guidelines of the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) have been followed. PRISMA statement aims to provide a guide for the drafting of the results of research in the medical field [ 18 ].

2.1 Eligibility criteria

According to the selected eligibility criteria, only journal articles with a publication year from 2017 to 2022 were included. The examination of these articles, in particular, allows us to concentrate on newly created approaches, and the research confined to the aforementioned time allows us to comprehend the major elements and associated constraints of the most current methodology. The search was restricted to documents in English, which was thought to be the most often used language for this type of topic. Literature reviews or surveys were excluded. Only articles describing technologies implemented on a real environment or on prototypes were included.

2.2 Searching for a paper

The searching of articles was carried out through Scopus, a search engine with a database of peer-reviewed scientific products (journal articles, books, conference proceedings) and more than 70 million bibliographic citations, abstracts, and bibliometric data. It was preferred over other search engines, as it covers wider disciplinary sectors, unlike for example Pubmed which is a purely biomedical database.

The search string launched on Scopus was as follows:

TITLE-ABS-KEY ( rfid AND ( healthcare OR “health care” OR hospital ) ) AND ( LIMIT-TO ( DOCTYPE , “ar”) OR LIMIT-TO ( DOCTYPE , “ch” ) OR LIMIT-TO ( DOCTYPE , “re” ) ) AND ( LIMIT-TO ( PUBYEAR , 2022 ) OR LIMIT-TO ( PUBYEAR , 2021 ) OR LIMIT-TO ( PUBYEAR , 2020 ) OR LIMIT-TO ( PUBYEAR , 2019 ) OR LIMIT-TO ( PUBYEAR , 2018 ) OR LIMIT-TO ( PUBYEAR , 2017 ) ) AND ( LIMIT-TO ( LANGUAGE , “English”) )

With this string we have imposed restrictions on the year of publication (from 2017 to 2022), and on the language: English.

2.3 Selection process

After the literature search, all the recovered documents were examined, selected first by title, then by abstract and finally by evaluating the entire text. The articles rejected based on their title were not related to the health sector but dealt with other issues. In reading the abstract, those articles relating to literature reviews or surveys were discarded. Articles with higher numbers of citations were preferred in this phase. All of the records in the output of the literature search had their titles and abstracts reviewed separately by two reviewers (L.P. and E.I.). The ones deemed to be unrelated to the scope of the review have been eliminated. The two reviewers’ individual results have been compared, and the publications that they both deemed appropriate for the research have been added immediately to the list for full-text download. M.G., a third reviewer, was requested to make a choice about the papers that had been chosen by just one of the two reviewers. The selection process of the sources of evidence is illustrated by means of the flowchart in Fig. 2 .

figure 2

Selection process of papers

The search returned 366 results. One paper was found among the references of [ 19 ] and was manually added to the final list [ 20 ]. An article concerning the cognitive learning of autistic children was also manually added. This paper deals with the guidelines for preventing Covid-19 infection and is the updated version of a paper [ 21 ] published in the Proceedings of the 12th Asian Conference on Intelligent Information and Database Systems [ 22 ]. Eleven articles were included in this review at the end of the selection process.

3.1 Characteristics of sources of evidence

Tables 1 and 2 provide an overview of the selected articles. For each study, the reference, the used technology, the objective, advantages, limitations and the date of publication are indicated.

3.2 Summary of results

The study of the selected articles highlighted six matters that can be profitably impacted by this technology.

Reduction of medical errors in the operating room

One of the most frequent adverse events related to the use of devices in surgery is the retention of surgical instruments, such as gauze (clinical condition defined in the literature as “Gossypiboma” or “textiloma”) needles, scalpels, electrosurgical adapters, forceps, or parts thereof. A wide range of clinical outcomes, including asymptomatic patients, cases with major consequences such intestinal perforation, sepsis, organ damage, and even death, can result from the retention of foreign material. Due to these events, a mortality rate of 11 % to 35 % is estimated [ 31 ]. Despite the refinement of the guidelines for equipment counting in surgery, the risk of retaining foreign objects is high, and can increase in some situations, such as during emergency operations with unplanned procedure or in the case of patients with a high body mass index (BMI). Therefore, the need to find a solution that can solve this problem at the root. Indeed, RFID technology has proven to be a reliable tool for detecting and tracking surgical material. For example, as regards the gauze, a system has been developed that includes an integrated antenna, capable of scanning the patient’s body and identifying the retained gauze. Each gauze is equipped with a passive RFID tag, in bio-compatible material, that is resistant to water, chemicals and high temperatures [ 30 ]. The count of the used gauze is carried out through a basket-shaped ‘check-out’ antenna, which consists of an array of six antennas: four on the side surface, one on the bottom and one at the intermediate level. The localization of the gauze is carried out through a multiplexer that acts as a body scanner. All data is displayed in real time with software supporting the operating room staff. Surgical instruments (scalpels, probes, hemostatic tissue, forceps, etc.) can also be identified with an RFID tag (Fig.  3 ) by using an antenna that is able to detect them and monitor their usage rate. The usage rate is an important parameter for understanding wear, thus preventing breakage of the instrument during surgery. The antenna is positioned on an instrument holder, the Mayo table, where the instruments are sorted and collected thus allowing a precise reading of the objects that are positioned above [ 28 ].

figure 3

Radiofrequency identification-tagged instruments (source: https://www.delta.tudelft.nl/article/tracking-surgical-instruments-rfid-chips )

Patient identification

Misidentification of the patient is one of the main causes of medical error, leading to incorrect administration or incorrect dosage of drugs. These mistakes can lead to serious consequences. RFID technology has the potential to prevent such consequences. An example is the use of NFC tags to identify medical staff on shift, hospital patients and drugs [ 2 ].

In the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Virxe da Xunqueira hospital in Spain, an interesting system has been implemented that computerizes and keeps track of hospitalizations, care plans, vital monitoring, prescriptions, and drug administration of patients (Fig. 4 ).

figure 4

RFID system for tracking in the ICU (doctor (source:  https://www.mdpi.com/1424-8220/18/5/1627/htm# )

The developed system consists of two subsystems: hardware and software. They have been designed to facilitate the flow of information between all operators involved in the patient care. The administered drug, the healthcare staff and the patient are identified by means of a NFC tag. This tag must be read by the application to obtain the unique identifier (UID) and manage the pending tasks related to the care process of the patient. For example, the application can thus confirm whether a certain drug, prescribed by the doctor, is waiting to be administered to the patient by hospital staff on shift (Fig. 5 ).

figure 5

RFID system for tracking in the ICU (source: https://www.mdpi.com/1424-8220/18/5/1627/htm# )

The identification of healthcare staff is important to ensure that each professional profile has access to information based on its category. In a possible scenario, the nursing staff will be able to manage the drugs administration, while the section for drugs prescription is just for physicians. An objective of this system is the possibility of rapidly identifying patients so that it is possible to check which of them have been administered certain batches of drugs, to manage any pharmaceutical alarms.

Infection prevention and control

It is also important to prevent possible worsening of wounds or infections in time. For example, it is important to monitor the progress of wounds healing to prevent deterioration. It is known that pH is an important biomarker of the state of a wound, normally in the absence of lesions the skin has a slightly acid pH, in the range of 4-6, while when it is damaged this acidic environment is altered. When the wound is acute, pH follows a relatively simple path through a phase of acidic inflammation, followed by a more basic granulation phase, subsequently stabilizing in the 4-6 pH range during re-epithelialization. About the chronic wounds, the process is much more complex [ 32 ] and it is very important to monitor this process to get an idea of the progress of the wound, in order to act promptly. To this end it was proposed to fix a pH meter on wound dressings with a non-contact electronic reading based on RFID, through a low-cost optoelectronic interface [ 29 ]. Optical measurements are carried out with a wireless sensor framework specifically designed for optical chemical sensing. This framework allows quantitative pH data to be self-measured and wirelessly transferred via RFID to a computer. The system is based on a commercial integrated circuit, the MLX90129, which provides wireless communication functions (RFID and NFC). The optoelectronic sensor consists of an LED light source and a photodiode that measures the light reflected by the pH-sensitive film. The LED and photodiode are controlled by the wireless platform during sample acquisition with an adjustable sampling rate (Fig. 6 ).

figure 6

Schematic showing operation of the wireless smart bandage (source: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0925400517303222 )

Among the many wireless technologies available, the use of RFID for wound detection is particularly appealing, owing to inherent characteristics such as low power consumption, which allows for longer measurements, or its compatibility with NFC, which allows for data transfer and analysis directly from a smartphone.

The usage of a humidity sensor for diapers is especially important for non-self-sufficient persons, children, or people with certain diseases, who, if not examined often, are vulnerable to skin rashes and bacterial infections [ 25 ]. The low-cost smart diaper features a passive RFID tag made of SAP (Super Absorbent Polymer), a subclass of hydrogel that is responsible for the majority of absorption and boosts conductivity when wet. This characteristic is utilised for detection as well as an antenna element in the tag’s construction. The plan was to create a bow-tie antenna made of metal and SAP that expands when wet, increasing the power given to the RFID tag chip. The RFID reader, when placed within the tag’s reading range and linked to the internet, allows you to send a notice to the mobile device associated with it, notifying the healthcare personnel or caregiver in the event of an emergency. Another essential protection is that linked to epidemics; there are crucial steps to be done to avoid catching the virus. So, even when we talk about COVID-19, we know that the WHO has standards in place to attempt to restrict its spread. They are basic principles that must be followed in order to protect ourselves and others; consequently, they must be taught and mastered even by youngsters, but this may be challenging when dealing with autism. Indeed, autistic children’s learning processes are hampered from early childhood due to a diminished inclination to watch and copy others, as well as trouble interpreting others’ words and activities [ 33 ]. Technology and gaming, such as the creation of an IoT-based gaming platform, can be beneficial [ 23 ]. The platform is made up of three games and comprises of a physical device and a mobile application. To save data, the mobile application is wirelessly connected to the device and the server. Children’s interactions and activities with the device are assessed and saved on the server, allowing past data to be obtained, examined, and analyzed by the server via this application, allowing them to monitor their learning progress (Fig. 7 ).

figure 7

Conceptual design of the proposed gaming tool (source:  https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/07356331211067725 )

A power supply turns on the hardware. There are three switches that correlate to the device’s three games. Only two of these focus on learning Covid-19 infection prevention strategies. The linked gadgets are powered when the corresponding switch is switched on.

One of these games consists of cards, with each card containing a multiple-choice question and four potential pictures illustrated below. Each card has four piezoelectric sensors and an RFID tag that uniquely identifies it. When a card is placed in the corresponding location of the game box, the system reads the RFID tag associated to the card, allowing it to be viewed on the mobile application, which records the replies in the database. As shown in Fig. 8 , the card’s job is to educate a youngster which behaviors are appropriate and which are wrong or to avoid in order to protect us from COVID-19.

figure 8

a Function card game box and b respective app interface

A second game is to teach the kid the proper sequence for proper hand hygiene, always in relation to viral transmission prevention. The game is organized by six cards, each of which has a picture and an RFID tag (the tag is used to uniquely identify the cards), which must be placed in the correct sequence on the game box by the kid. The latter is made up of RFID scanners, which will uniquely identify the cards and relay the data to the mobile application. Unfortunately, given the rapid transmission of some viruses, such as COVID-19, we know that preventative measures are sometimes insufficient. Several research have attempted to discover a feasible answer to contact traceability [ 26 ]. In one research, an IoT-based approach that gathers information from moving objects is offered [ 26 ]. This information is recorded anonymously until bearers test positive for an infectious illness, such as COVID-19, according to the model.

The visual architectural model shown in Fig. 9 depicts how data flows from the RFID tag, to the reader, and finally to the blockchain; similarly, proximity data collected by the application downloaded on a mobile device (consider the various applications that were freely downloaded during the Covid-19 pandemic, which were used to detect and prevent any infections), from the geolocalizer of contacts incorporated into it, flow into the blockchain via the Internet. In order to maintain anonymity, the data obtained in this manner is kept using the blockchain. Indeed, because to its qualities and the manner in which data is maintained, it is frequently seen as an alternative to other types of databases for registers administered by public bodies in terms of security, dependability, openness, and prices). The contact geolocalizer is a component of the application (DApp), i.e. the front-end through which users interact with the program. If a citizen with the mobile device or RFID tag is diagnosed with COVID-19 or another infectious disease, the information collected may be utilized to send notifications to contacts.

figure 9

RFID device data flow diagram to the blockchain (source:  https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/9181512 )

The collected data is saved on the applicable Smart Contract (SC). A smart contract is a specific collection of instructions recorded on the blockchain that may self-execute activities based on a set of pre-programmed criteria; all of this in an immutable, transparent, and entirely secure manner. To prevent the excessive use of data and the phone battery, information on position changes will be acquired every 10 minutes, as will uploading to the blockchain every twenty minutes. Because the RFID tag lacks the ability to connect to other devices, its contact with other similar devices will be determined by the timestamp information (the timestamp can be defined as a “timestamp,” which is a sequence of characters representing a date and / or a time to determine the actual occurrence of a certain event).

Protection measures

The scarcity of health providers is a severe socioeconomic issue in many nations, especially given the aging of the population [ 34 ]. Cutting-edge medical technology, like as intelligent wheelchairs, can assist the elderly in living independently, therefore alleviating the shortage of health care. However, the lack of a caregiver makes wheelchair accidents more perilous; rollover is one of the most prevalent, and the following fall of the user is possibly lethal. As a result, an RFID-based rollover monitoring sensor attached to wheelchairs can be quite useful [ 24 ]. The suggested sensor is made up of two symmetrical, meandering dipole antennas on the left and right sides, as well as a four-port switch, tilt detector (RBS100600 ONCQUE) in the middle (Fig. 10 ).

figure 10

Geometry and photograph of the proposed rolloversensor (source:  https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/mop.32648 )

The rollover sensor is intended to be mounted horizontally beneath the wheelchair seat. When the latter is flipped over, the two pins of the tilt switch on the opposite side (right or left) are connected, and the RFID chip on the same side is activated, generating a voltage, by the energy of the signal sent by the RFID reader. Thus, the wheelchair’s protective measures can be activated to minimize injuries by connecting their circuitry to the RFID chip. When this is activated, a response signal containing the chip code is delivered to the reader. In this manner, the RFID-based location algorithm can get the sensor position, and the emergency signal comprising the sensor location will be transmitted to local hospitals or rescue stations, as well as family members.

Vital signs monitoring remotely and in real time

This is the case with the development of the Wearable IoT-cloud-based hEalth (WISE) system [ 20 ], which employs a network of indestructible sensors to monitor the health of people with chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. It is possible to get a number of biomedical signals, including arterial blood pressure, heart beat, blood pressure, and body temperature. WISE was developed on the basis of the hardware platform Arduino, and is integrated with sensor nodes such as the non-invasive sensor designed to measure blood pressure. The connection of an RFID reader to the Arduino platform makes it easier to identify different users. Furthermore, WISE has a WiFi module that allows data to be sent to the cloud, allowing authorized users to access data in real time from any location and at any time. As a result, the WISE system consists of three key components: the WISE body area network (W-BAN), the WISE cloud (W-Cloud), and the WISE users. Connecting the RFID reader to the Arduino platform makes it easier to identify different users. Furthermore, WISE has a WiFi module that facilitates data transfer to the cloud, allowing authorized users to view data in real time from any location and at any time. As a result, the WISE system is made up of three main components: the WISE body area network (W-BAN), the WISE cloud (W-Cloud), and the WISE users (Fig. 11 ).

figure 11

WISE system (source: https://jwcn-eurasipjournals.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s13638-018-1308-x )

W-BAN data may be effectively and efficiently saved and processed in the cloud. To detect and diagnose probable cardiac disease, key characteristics can be extracted. If an aberrant state is identified, an alert is sent to a designated interlocutor, including a text message to physicians or family members, and a warning is presented on the LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) for the users.

Monitoring of medical instruments and drugs

Another important issue is the continuous monitoring of medical instruments and drugs that are essential for patient care, for example, to avoid the stock-out in the inventory. A solution could be the use of an automated system defined as “StocKey ®  RFID Smart Cabinet” [ 27 ]. The medical supplies for the patients’ care and those for the surgical operations are labeled with RFID technology when they are supplied to the hospital. In this way, it is possible to manage expiration dates and automatically schedule reorders. The tags, in fact, identify the product with the lot number, serial number and expiration date. The objects thus identified are kept in a closed cabinet (“Faraday cage”), which allows an accurate view of the medical supplies present in the warehouse. All the inputs and outputs of products, thanks to their RFID tags, are read to be incorporated into the electronic inventory of the cabinet. This system was designed primarily for operating rooms, unlike the IoT-based system [ 14 ], which was designed for in-hospital or out-of-hospital pharmacies and mainly for drugs. This system also uses the RFID tag above the drug packages, which are read by an RFID reader placed in the center of the compartment, where they are located. Everything is connected to an LED that alerts the manager of that department if a check for missing or expired drugs is necessary. RFID labeling can also be considered one of the best solutions against drug counterfeiting, because information, such as raw materials, the manufacturer, and the pharmaceutical company, is collected and thus identification is facilitated. This is a very important, because counterfeit drugs pose a significant threat to patient safety and public health and cause heavy losses to each State economy. For example, counterfeit drugs to treat malaria and pneumonia cause an estimated 250,000 infant deaths each year.

4 Discussion of results

From the analyzed studies, the use of RFID tags seems to be more promising in two scenarios: the first is in the field of surgical instrumentation, since RFID technology allows continuous monitoring of the instruments used during a surgical operation, such as gauze or instruments: scalpels, electrosurgical adapters, forceps, etc. Therefore, the use of RFID tags benefits the patient, in terms of safety, and the medical and nursing staff in carrying out their related duties. The second scenario is that concerning patients’ identification: a correct identification of the patient helps to reduce errors related to the administration of drugs; a quick identification of the patient is very important in case of emergencies launched by the pharmaceutical companies on a specific batch of a drug that could present anomalies or manufacturing errors. Passive RFID tags seem to be the most used, this is probably due to their lower cost compared to active RFID tags, their small size which makes them more flexible, despite their reading range that is much shorter than that of active ones. Although RFID technology holds great promise for Healthcare, there are several risks or barriers that prevent its implementation, in particular the implementation cost and the need to improve data security constitute obstacles to its use within hospitals or public medical facilities. Indeed, data security is a critical issue, since the protection of privacy and sensitive data currently requires careful attention. Another problem is electromagnetic interference (EMI) which occurs when electromagnetic waves from an electronic device interfere with the operation of another electronic device and cause an unwanted response. Many studies from the authors have assessed these aspects by applying risk analysis techniques as well as by investigating electromagnetic compatibility in real hospital settings [ 35 , 36 , 37 , 38 , 39 ]. The use of these technologies still needs to be tested and experimented on a large scale, as experiments have often been carried out using prototypes, in a limited number of places or on a few people.

In this work, the reviewed papers are academic articles, so the results are useful for analyzing the current development state of academic research but may not be suitable for predicting the actual implementation of RFID technology within medical and healthcare facilities.

5 Conclusions

The adoption of RFID technology in Healthcare is growing slowly compared to other areas, despite it is a very valuable tool. The proposed papers have been selected by searching the Scopus database. The presented works show that this type of technology can improve patients’ safety by reducing medical errors, that can occur within operating rooms, such as, for example, the retention of surgical material. It can also be the solution to overcome the problem of the black market in counterfeiting drugs, or as a prevention tool designed for monitoring the state of a wound using “smart bandages”. In the selected papers, issues concerning human limitations and relating consequences are addressed. The consequences are faced and prevented using RFID technology, which provides a prompt solution and an improvement in management, inside and outside the hospitals. As previously mentioned, further research is needed, especially on data management, security, and privacy, given the sensitive nature of medical information.

Availability of data and material

Not applicable.

Code availability

Yao W, Chu C-H, Li Z. The use of RFID in healthcare: benefits and barriers. In: 2010 IEEE International Conference on RFID-Technology and Applications. IEEE; 2010. p. 128–34

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Laura Profetto, Monica Gherardelli & Ernesto Iadanza

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Profetto, L., Gherardelli, M. & Iadanza, E. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) in health care: where are we? A scoping review. Health Technol. 12 , 879–891 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12553-022-00696-1

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A systematic review of RFID applications and diffusion: key areas and public policy issues

  • Kwangho Jung 1 &
  • Sabinne Lee 2  

Journal of Open Innovation: Technology, Market, and Complexity volume  1 , Article number:  9 ( 2015 ) Cite this article

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RFID applicants called as e-ID, smart tag, and contactless smart card are being applied to numerous areas in our daily life, including tracking manufactured goods, currency, and patients to payments systems. To review these various applications of RFID is important to exploring not only ongoing e-governance issues such as digital identification, delivery process, and governance but also business oriented application areas like supply chain. Through a systematic review methodology from 111 previous studies about RFID technology for public sector, we found six key areas of RFID applications: defense and security, identification, environmental applications, transportation, healthcare and welfare, and agriculture-livestock. We also suggest that the diffusion and applications of RFID can involve unexpected disadvantages including technological deficiency, uncertain benefits, dubious transparency, uncomfortable privacy issue, and unequal distribution of digital power and literacy. Further research on RFID impact includes not only various theoretical issues of but also legal and managerial problems. Rigorous research is required to explore what factors are critical to adopt and implement new RFID applications in terms of technology governance and digital literacy. Massive data driven research is also expected to identify RFID performance in government agencies and various industry sectors.

RFID technology has been widely implemented all over the world and its impact on our daily life is very diverse and massive (Li et al., 2006 ; Wyld, 2005 ). Those diverse areas of RFID application include logistical tracking, monitoring and maintenance of products, product safety and information, and payment process. Today many governments around the world in both developed Footnote 1 and developing Footnote 2 countries are trying to apply it for various areas from tracking manufactured goods, currency, and patients to securing sagety of payments systems. Massive RFID applications around all the industry sectors and countries are expected to generate a huge potential benefits for sustainable efficient energy infrastructure, transportation safety, and health care. Over the past 50 years, RFID technology went through innovations and progressions to become a more efficient and effective gadget for human beings as well as effective solutions of technical and organizational problems in various industry sectors. However, key issues of appropriate ICT technology, governing networks among RFID domains, standardization requirement, and privacy still remain unsolved Footnote 3 .

We review previous literature about RFID technology used in public sectors in order to identify what has been done and found to suggest policy implications and further research agenda. More specifically, we discuss four aspects regarding RFID research issues and policy implications. First, we examine various competing concepts of RFID use by governments all over the world. Second, we categorize numerous applications of RFID technology through analyzing previous literature. Third, we try to figure out technological issues and governance problems that RFID technology faces today. Last, we draw key public issues and suggest future research agenda.

Methodology of the RFID literature review

A brief history of rfid technology.

RFID technology was emerged as Frederick Hertz found existence of radio frequency during his experiment in 1886 (Wyld, 2005 ) and developed for the purpose of defense during the Second World War Footnote 4 . During 1970s and 1980s, the RFID system attracted plenty of scholars and innovators, so efforts to register patents progressed (Takahashi, 2004 ). Researchers like Charles Walton had registered a patent to use RFID. In the 1980s, many US and European companies recognized the importance of developing RFID technology and started to manufacture RFID tags. Soon scholars at MIT University opened an Auto-ID center to promote the use and implementation of RFID technology. But most of the scholars report that the first commercialization of RFID technology was done by Wal-Mart as they launched RFID based material identifying system in 2005 (Shahram and Manish 2005 ). Wal-Mart is now tracking merchandise including food, apparels, and electronic items with RFID technology in their supply chain. Footnote 5 . RFID technology is a brand new policy tool that can ensure high transparency, efficiency and effectiveness not only in industrial areas but also in government service delivery. Table  1 describes a brief history of how RFID technology was developed and diffused.

Research design for a systematic review

We searched online data base and expert based information to identify RFID publications between 2003 and 2015. We categorized RFID applications and analyzed issues and concerns that RFID faces today by systematically reviewing published literature. We have collected literature we use for systematic review from two different resources. First, most of the studies are found by searching the e-database. We could access electronic databases, such as Google Scholar, World Web of Science (WWS), Proquest Central, and Science Direct through Seoul National University’s main library homepage. We had set ‘RFID technology’, ‘RFID government,’ ‘RFID application, and ‘RFID issue’ as keywords for searching literature. We found most of the research through this method of searching. The second method we used for collecting data was having discussions with experts. To do this, we first made a list of experts who specialize in IT technology, Science technology, and public administration. Five experts agreed to help us and recommended some research papers that were known for their fluent flow of logic and plentiful contents. We chose relevant research papers from among experts’ recommendations. In sum we had used previous literature collected from two methods we discussed above, searching e-database and asking experts, as our resource of searching.

[Figure  1 ] shows analytical frame that we use for this study. We have determined the literature for systematic review according to three stages shown on the flow chart. First, the original total number of studies we have found from the e-database was 4260. Also 185 research papers were found from experts’ recommendations and previous public papers. A total of 4,445 studies were chosen through the first stage. Second, we excluded 4,121 following general eligibility criteria by screening title and abstract. More specifically, we excluded RFID studies only with one of the following criteria: 1) studies focusing on private sector; 2) studies without considering how public sector implemented RFID technology; 3) studies that did not discuss any social scientific implications; and 4) studies that only deal with RFID technology from pure scientific and engineering points of view. In sum, we included only 324 papers that discussed RFID issues and their implications in public sector. Third, we removed further 213 studies too much focusing on private sector or RFID technology itself, rather on its applications in our society and social scientific implications. Finally, 111 articles were chosen for our systematic review.

Analytical Frame

[Figure  2 ] below showed descriptive statistics of collected literatures by published year. It shows 22 studies were published in 2007 among 111 literatures. As we already described above in history of RFID section, the popularization and commercialization of RFID technology was started in 2005 with Wal-Mart’s adoption. It seems that after Wal-Mart’s innovative footsteps hit the world, many scholars were started to recognize the potential of new technology and tried to understand and develop RFID technology. Besides some governments from all over the world implemented new way of public service delivery using RFID technology. Consequently, 49 literatures were publishedbetween 2006 and 2008 and it forms almost 45 % of our collected studies

Descriptive Statistics of Literatures by year

For this study, we categorized governments’ way of using RFID technology in 6 areas; Agriculture and Livestock, Defense and Security, Environmental Applications, Healthcare and Welfare, Identification, and Transportation. [Figure  3 ] shows descriptive statistics of collected literatures categorized by applications. We categorized studies that did not focus on specific sector and analyze and introduce RFID technology from the general perspectives as ‘RFID general’. ‘RFID general’ studies usually deal with various ways of using RFID technology in diverse sectors simultaneously. As we can see from [Fig.  3 ], RFID general area had 42 papers. That means still lots of RFID studies could not be fully specialized and remained in status of generally introducing RFID technology. Identification sector scores secondly highest number of published literatures among areas. This result seems natural because e-ID card or e-Passport have most powerful force that can hurt privacy, one of the most serious and notorious issues that RFID technology face today

Descriptive Statistics of Literatures by applications

Key applied areas of RFID

Defense and security.

As we show in [Table  1 ], the history of RFID technology was started from the need for ensuring national security. Almost 60 years have passed since US army developed RFID based identification system to identify allies and enemies, RFID technology is still used for protecting people. For instance, Weinstein ( 2005 ) and Konsysnki & Smith ( 2003 ) reported how the US Army and Navy implement RFID technology in cargo containers to identify materials. The US Army and Navy implement RFID not only to identify US troops’ own weapons and containers but also to identify enemies in battle (Tien 2004 ) Footnote 6 . RFID systems are also important in terms of airport and port security. After the 9/11 terror attack on the United States, President George W. Bush let all the airport and port in US adopt identification systems based on RFID technology to protect its nation from additional terrorist attacks (Werb and Sereiko 2002 ) Footnote 7 . In 2012, the Taiwanese government decided to implement an RFID based e-Seal system to increase security and efficiency (Tsai and Huang 2012 ). In addition, RFID technology can be used effectively in prison management Footnote 8 and child protection. In some countries like Japan and Republic of Korea, the RFID tag is implemented in child protection monitoring (Table  2 ). Footnote 9

Identification

Electronic passports like ‘e-passports’ were adopted electrically after the 9/11 attack. After the terrible tragedy broke heart of United States, the American government became aware of the importance of checking VISAs and passports correctly. The US Department of State soon let people who wanted to enter US to use RFID tag embedded electronic passports instead of traditional barcode based passports Footnote 10 . The European Union also endorsed the inclusion of biological information in e-passports. The EU Justice and Home Affairs Council decided to include fingerprints as a second mandatory identifier on passports in 2004. Footnote 11 In addition, RFID can be used in e-ID cards in various countries. For example, in the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Labor Party convinced the nation to adopt biometrically-enhanced national identification cards (Ezovski and Watkins 2007 ). Tony Blair’s administration announced its will to implement RFID tag embedded national identification card in late 2004. China is another case where the e-ID card is used today. As a matter of fact, China is the country where e-ID card is widely and largely adopted today. The Beijing Olympics held in 2008 lit the fuse of adoption. The largest smart card project was implemented as a part of preparing the most prominent international sports event. In 2008, the Chinese government supplied 1.2 billion dollars of RFID readers and 2.25 billion dollars of RFID embedded smart cards to citizens. This made China the world’s largest market for RFID (Kovavisaruch and Suntharasaj 2007 ) (Table  3 ).

Environmental applications

RFID technology can be widely applied in environmental applications. Adopting an RFID system in waste management is the most prominent way of using RFID to ensure efficient, eco-friendly waste management among lots of countries in the world. PAYT (Pay-As-You-Throw) program done by European Union (EU) is the pioneer of this field. PAYT is an RFID based waste pricing model that allows each individuals or each household to pay for the tag along with the total amount of waste they throw. Since each household and individual has a waste box in which RFID tags are embedded, the exact volume of waste can be calculated. In Europe this incentive based system has been proven to be a powerful policy tool for reducing the total amount of waste and for encouraging recycling (Schindler et al. 2012 ). Similar systems are broadly implemented in US (Ransford et al. 2012 ). In South Korea, the ministry of environment introduced it to industry and urged them to use an RFID based waste management system, especially in medical waste management. RFID technology is implemented in waste management in developed and developing countries, but the purpose of adoption is somewhat different from Europe to the US. India, the second-most populated country in the world, has adopted RFID technology to cope with the rapid increase of volume and types of waste (Infotech 2013 ). Similarly in 2010, what China faced were the World Expo and huge amounts of construction waste that comprised 30 % to 40 % of the total urban waste. Shanghai was chosen for a pilot project using an RFID based waste management system. All the waste dumping trucks had an embed RFID tag and volume of waste they carry was checked by the local government (Ruan and Hu 2011 ). Another interesting case of environmental application emerges from South Korea. The South Korean government operates U-Street Trees Systems through which the exact location and status of street trees can be monitored. Information about location and status of street trees are collected by an RFID tag that is attached to each tree is saved in a web information system, so trees can be managed effectively. Kim et al. ( 2006 ) claim that this web based information system could manage information remotely with an interactive system (Table  4 ).

Transportation

Public transportation is another popular sector for RFID technology applications. RFID based electronic toll collection technology is one of the oldest and widespread RFID implementation (Ulatowski 2007 ). As soon as an RFID tag embedded car arrives at a toll booth, the RFID reader scans and reads the information that the RFID tag contains. The driver will pay debits according to the price that electronic reader suggests. In the US, electronic toll collection is thought as efficient and effective method that eliminates long lines of traffic at toll booth (Ulatowski 2007 ). RFID based toll collection is also adopted in criminal cases because it enables prosecutors to identify the exact location of the criminal’s car (Smith 2006 ). In South Korea, the Korean government has set credit card-linked electronic toll collection system called ‘Hypass’ especially for collecting transportation tolls on express ways. If an RFID tag is embedded on their cars, drivers can pass the tollbooth without stopping the car because RFID reader scan the data immediately and handle the whole payment process in about 5 s (Kim 2008 ). Hong Kong launched similar public transportation toll collection system in 1997 and the ‘Octopus Card’ is now internationally famous for its convenience. This system is able to handle 10 million transactions per day and includes all modes of public transport (Kovavisaruch and Suntharasaj 2007 ). South Korea has set credit card-linked electronic toll collection system called ‘Hypass’ especially for collecting transportation tolls on express ways. RFID technology is also implemented in railroad toll collection in India, where railroads are the most widely used form of public transportation. If an RFID tag is embedded on their cars, drivers can pass the tollbooth without stopping the car because RFID reader scan the data immediately and handle the whole payment process in about 5 s (Kim, 2008 ). In addition, RFID has been used as a critical technology to promote efficiency and transparency for public transportation system in developing countries. For instance, the Mexican government runs “Creating Traffic Knowledge in Mexico: Applying RFID to prevent vandalism” and one of the purposes of this innovative project is to develop a transportation information system to acquire more subtle data necessary for government decision making ( Prado et al. 2010 ). Analogous to Mexican case, in Bangladesh where BRTA (Bangladesh Road Transport Authority) was started in 2003, the technology is operated mainly for control and supervision of the road transport systems (Hossain et al. 2009 ). RFID technology is also implemented in railroad toll collection in India, where railroads are the most widely used form of public transportation (Table  5 ).

Healthcare and welfare

RFID enables hospitals to manage their equipment more easily and save expenses in public health areas Footnote 12 . The US government agencies like FDA have also already used RFID tag in monitoring drug industry Footnote 13 . Since American hospitals handle almost 4,000 medicines per day, medication errors can be easily occurred. With strong government support, public hospitals in Taiwan have actively adopted innovation of RFID (Kuo and Chen 2008 ) Footnote 14 . Even though it is not yet commercialized, an RFID identification system Footnote 15 for the visually impaired people is being developed by engineers in Pakistan with the support of the Pakistani government (Murad et al. 2011 ) (Table  6 ).

Agriculture and livestock

RFID technology can be an effective tool for securing food safety and managing agriculture and livestock. Another major advantage to this system is that animal disease tracking can be realized through innovative technology like RFID (Hossain and Quaddus 2009 ). With the government support, researchers have developed the Navigation System for Appropriate Pesticide Use as a basic system for risk management in agriculture (Nanseki et al. 2005 ). RFID technology in agriculture was first introduced by the European Union (EU) in the late 1990s and shortly thereafter many countries, such as Australia, Japan and South Korea, adopted the innovation. Among those countries, the Australian government was the most passionate in implementing RFID Footnote 16 . For instance, all the livestock in Australia have RFID embedded tags on their bodies immediately after they are born; information that enables farmers to identify each entity and its health status is registered in National Livestock Identification System (NLIS). RFID technology in Japan has been also adopted in agriculture especially to secure food safety and agricultural risk management that can occur by abusing pesticides (Nanseki et al. 2005 , Sugahara 2009 ). The Japanese government planned to make a food traceability system by 2010 as a part of the “e-Japan” plan (Chen et al. 2008 ). The United States is another case that applies mandatory RFID based identification system in managing livestock. According to RFID Gazette ( 2006 ), the USDA is pushing for RFID tagging of cattle to make tracing of disease patterns easier. With the formation of National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA) in 2002, the plan for setting the National Animal Identification System was started. What the US government fulfilled through this program was “to be able to identify all animals and premises that have had contact with a foreign or domestic animal disease of concern within 48 h” (Wyld, 2005 ) because “the sooner animal health officials can identify infected and exposed animals and premises, the sooner they can contain the disease and stop its spread (USDA-APHIS 2005 )” (Table  7 ).

Public policy issues from RFID diffusion

RFID applications and diffusion generate complex policy and governance problems. We address public policy issues such as technological gap and uncertainty of expecting potential benefits and costs from a rapid and massive RFID diffusion. Uneasy governing issues in transparency, digital identification and power distribution are arising from inappropriate RFID applications. We discuss governance issues such as corruption, privacy problem, and digital monopoly and literacy in the following.

Technological concerns

Technology is not still enough to satisfy all the elements that RFID is trying to perform various operational mechanisms. RFID technology deficiencies inevitably occur with the application of technology because there is niche space still left. For instance, RFID technology does not have a unified frequency standard yet. Since there are no internationally agreed upon frequencies for RFID operations, permitted scanner/reader powers also differ between countries. There are still significant differences between the frequencies from the EU and the USA (Hossain et al., 2009 ). In addition, Reichenhach (2008) pointed out the lack of storage capacity. In the EU, where RFID based waste management is common, there are technological barriers like a shortage of storage capacity Footnote 17 . Ema and Fujigaki ( 2011 ) draw implications from a child monitoring case done in Japan that being informed of children’s exact location cannot guarantee their actual safety, but RFID tags often lead to that cherished illusion. Vining ( 2005 ) warned about another possibility of niche space. According to his study about port security in the US, stealing goods without damaging RFID tag is possible because at ports, the container can be drilled into and contents can be removed. The RFID tag does not have to endure any damage through this whole process. In the US, as a response to continued pressure from various stakeholders, the US government even adopted the ‘Faraday cage’ for privacy protection Footnote 18 (Table  8 ).

Uncertain cost-benefit effectiveness

RFID defenders emphasize that RFID technology can guarantee effectiveness and efficiency at a very cheap price. There is, however, substantial evidence to show RFID can generate unexpected costs Footnote 19 . In reality, the RFID tag is much more expensive than a barcode, which was very popular in identifying materials before the rise of RFID technology (Becker 2004 ). Purchasing RFID devices, hardware, and tags is not sufficient to drive system relevantly. To guarantee a better quality of service, the RFID system needs more additional things such as “circular process mechanism, the richness of consultant, project manager, programmers and plentiful project labors” (Kuo and Chen 2008 ). These elements for a better RFID performance may involve considerable costs. Kuo and Chen ( 2008 ) reported that RFID technology consumers and government should pay the extra hidden cost in the healthcare industry (Table  9 ).

Dubious transparency and corruption

RFID technology is expected to increase transparency and monitor corruption. However, RFID technology cannot ensure a high level of transparency than expected. As a matter of fact, RFID tags can be cloned and manipulated quite easily, and this kind of tag corruption can occur at every stage of RFID implementation. There are various examples to show an inappropriate use of RFID technology. For instance, Armknecht et al. ( 2010a , b ) warned the possibility of tag corruption. Lee et al. ( 2012 ) pointed out reader corruption of the RFID technology. An existing security model mainly focuses on the possibility of tag corruption, but reader corruption can hurt consumers’ privacy as seriously as tag corruption can. Jules ( 2006 ) reported one of the tag corruption cases that observed in United States. One of the staff members who worked in a Dupyu store, an unscrupulous retailer, attached a cloned tag to counterfeit drugs. Avoine et al. ( 2010 ) argued that internet based databases can also be directly attacked and emphasized the possibility of reader corruption. There are also unethical behaviors to avoid RFID monitoring process. In the EU where an RFID based waste management system is aggressively implemented, some people disposed waste that came from their house at work places in order to avoid exact calculation through the RFID system. Not only this, Bilitewski ( 2008 ) reported that some conscienceless people are burning or transferring waste outside instead of throwing it into their RFID tag attached garbage can (Table  10 ).

Privacy issues

One of the most serious issues that RFID technology faces today is whether RFID technology is secure enough to protect privacy. Privacy is the most important concern RFID users have to deal with (Perakslis and Wolk 2005 ). RFID tag embedded chips often contain important personal information and usually this kind of private information can hurt one’s privacy seriously if leaked. To prevent leakage of private information, engineers developed cryptography, but there remains criticism Footnote 20 . The reason why these sorts of privacy concerns arise is because of the lack of security protection capacity of modern RFID technology. As we discussed above in the technological issues section, RFID technology today is not developed to secure perfect privacy. The technology itself has lots of deficiencies and people are smart enough to find niche spaces that can destroy the RFID security process. RFID itself can involve not only various hidden costs Footnote 21 but also induces a serious privacy problem Footnote 22 . However, despite these possibilities of attacks on privacy, there are lots of stakeholders and scholars who advocate the potential benefits of RFID. They claim that tracking and profiling consumers is solely for implementing RFID chips more effectively. Eaward Rerisi, one of the producers of early implementation of RFID technology argued that, “An RFID reader can read the number on a tag, but without knowing what the number means, there is no way to access personal information. The idea that the tags can be read by just anybody—that’s pretty impossible” (Murray 2003 ) (Table  11 ).

Unequal power and digital literacy

Unequal distribution of RFID technology can generate unequal distribution of various resources such as information and digital literacy. Especially in developing countries, the combination of unbalanced power distribution between stakeholders and a low level of digital literacy can cause serious problems. Ketprom et al. ( 2007 ) emphasized that in developing countries like Thailand Footnote 23 , governments should provide education and training on how to use brand new technology to poor farmers whose digital literacy remains relatively low. But poor farmers in Thailand are not the only stakeholders who are suffering from a lack of digital literacy. In Bangladesh, where RFID toll collection is common, traffic policies have no interest in using RFID technology for managing public transportation systems. Rather, they prefer traditional ways of toll collecting to information based technology (Hossain et al., 2009 ). Prasanth et al. ( 2009 ) found that the lack of digital literacy among the Indian people hampered an effective process of railroad toll collection in India. Another problem developing countries face is an unbalanced power distribution due to lack of democratic value embedded governance. Chen et al. ( 2008 ) criticized the Taiwanese government because it monopolizes most of the information collected by RFID technology. As we already discussed above, when RFID tag scanned, information saved in RFID tag is scanned by reader and then transmitted to an internet based database. If that data were available to the public, individuals and industry could make more reasonable decisions by analyzing them. We find another unbalanced power distribution case in China’s waste management system. According to Ruan and Hu ( 2011 ), the Chinese government benefits most from the RFID system Footnote 24 (Table  12 ).

Discussion and Conclusion

We found, relying on a systematic review from 111 RFID studies, six key areas of RFID applications. Specifically in the defense and security section, we addressed how military and airports/ports manage RFID systems to ensure security. We also found that RFID is effectively implemented in prison management and child protection programs. Numerous governments have introduced RFID identification tools such as e-passport and e-ID. RFID systems for waste management and street tree management are widely used from rich to poor countries. In healthcare and welfare delivery, RFID based smart cards have turned out to be very efficient. RFID is now being used to monitor counterfeit drugs. RFID has been applied to delivering service for the impaired and to trace infection. However, despite potential benefits from RFID applications, various unexpected problems arise. RFID can still involve technological deficiencies, especially in securing cryptography techniques, international standards of frequency, and storage capacity. RFID technology is not still enough to be efficient and effective in some areas (Becker 2004 , Jensen et al. 2007 ). Tag and reader corruption can hurt transparency and security. Privacy issues are still the most serious issues that RFID faces today (Naumann and Hogben 2008 ). RFID itself can generate new unequal digital literacy and power distribution, especially in developing countries such as Thailand and Bangladesh. Even the most latest innovative technologies, like RFID, do not have perfect answers to securing efficiency, effectiveness, convenience, and transparency. Rather, RFID technology itself creates unexpected problems. It should be noted that democratic governance and trust is still important to technological innovation and policy issues arising from a rapid RFID diffusion.

Our systematic review is incomplete to discuss all of the RFID issues from technology, market and management, e-government, and legal aspects. Further research on RFID diffusion and impact include not only various theoretical issues of but also legal and managerial problems. For instance, both qualitative and quantitative research is required to explore what factors are critical to adopt and implement new RFID technology in terms of governance and digital literacy. Both micro and macro approaches with massive data are also required to identify how RFID improve not only organizational performance in government agencies and various industry sectors but also quality of our life.

For example, after serious attack by Osama Bin Laden on 9/11, the American government decided to implement an RFID tag embedded e-passport and VISA waiver program. The US government asked their member countries to implement e-passport by late 2005 and soon US member countries like ROK and EU started to use e-passports. Currently, no one can enter to United States without an RFID tag based e-passport.

Especially in developing countries, governments usually adopt brand new IT technologies, but their low level of socio-economic infrastructures may prohibit the efficient operation of technology.

For instance, RFID applications may lack social virtues like trust, ethics, and democracy. It is essential to understanding how a rapid diffusion and massive applications of RFID generate conflict or harmony among human behaviors, digital literacy, institutional rules, and technology.

US Army and its allies could not only manage weapons and soldiers but also identify who was the enemy or not (Castro and Wamba, 2007 ). This whole project of developing an RFID based identifying system was known as IFF (Identify Friend of Foe).

See more various examples of RFID applications at the website ( https://epic.org/privacy/rfid/ )

In 2004, the US Army adopted RFID during the Iraq war to track Iraq troops. Not only these, the US Army piloted 4 projects using RFID; identifying material locations, weapons deteriorations, hazardous material tracking, and asset tracking (Anon 2002).

The New York City government also started an RFID e-seal pilot project in the New Jersey Port. Once RFID read and scan the tag, it can identify the contents of the container box. Also, the port of Tacoma and Seattle planned to adopt E-Seals, made of metal bolts with embedded RFID devices to ensure its security (Konsynski and Smith 2003 ).

Calpatria prison, located in Los Angeles, adopted a prisoner monitoring system using RFID chips in 2000 as the very first pilot using RFID in prison management in United States (Kim 2008 ). According to regulations of Calpatria prison, all the prison inmates were issued bracelets in which RFID chips were embedded. Since the pilot project at the Calpatria prison was successful, the local government let other prisons in Los Angeles adopt the innovative bracelet. The LA County prison started to use a brand new bracelet in response to the state government’s order; it is reported that through its adoption the prison could increase efficiency and effectiveness and decrease crimes occurred between inmates simultaneously (Nicholas 2008).

For instance, city governments in the Gifu and Osaka prefecture provided RFID tags that can be attached in students’ schoolbags to public elementary schools (Ema and Fujigaki, 2011 ). Similarly, in Haewoondae beach, one of the most famous vacation spots in South Korea, Busan Metropolitan City provides for parents RFID embedded bracelet that enables tracking exact location of their child by a smart phone ( http://news.naver.com/main/read.nhn?mode=LSD&mid=sec&sid1=102&oid=001&aid=0003353674 ).

This project began in 2002, but it took 3 years to fully implement for all 16 US passports (Meingast et al. 2007 ). The appearance of the e-passport is very similar to old passports, but woven into the paper of the passport, there is RFID tag that information about owner of the passport is included. Information about nationality, sex, age, and so on is scanned, as airport staff members scan the passport through RFID reader (Lorenc 2007 ). The US government did not stop at this point and adopted VISA Waiver Program. By 2005, the US member countries had to adopt RFID based e-passports and VISA Waiver Programs in order for their citizens to enter the United States because without e-passports, passengers could not be accepted at American points of entry. Today, the e-passport includes not only individual data but biological data, such as fingerprints (ICAO TAG MRTD/TWF 2004).

E-Government News, “EU Asks US for Time to Issue Biometric Passports”. iDABC European e-Government Services, 1 April, 2005.

For instance, Wicks et al. ( 2006 ) reported that this RFID based hospital management system is very effective in reducing management costs because embedded RFID tags can track lost or hidden expensive equipment. Miller (1999) pointed out that the potential of RFID technology can be expanded in tracking the location of patients and controlling the drugs. Also, Chowdhury and Khosla ( 2007 ) argued that RFID technology can be effectively used not only in hospital equipment management but also in patient management.

According to statistics published by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), about 44,000 to 98,000 people die in the USA per year because of improper drug administration (Kohn et al. 2000). To rectify this phenomenon, in 2004 the US government and US FDA recommended pharmaceutical industries to implement RFID tags to prevent the production of counterfeit drugs (Wyld, 2005 ). The Florida state government added legal regulations to this recommendation in 2006. If a pharmaceutical industry located in Florida does not attach RFID embedded tags on its products, it has to face substantial financial penalties (Skinar 2005).

For instance, RFID technology saved Singapore and Taiwan from SARS attack around 2003. Two public hospitals in Singapore in 2003 adopted RFID technology to track staff, patients, and visitors in order to trace people who carried the SARS virus. The RFID information database saved all the data collected from each individual’s RFID tag for 21 days, which was thought to be long enough for expression of SARS virus (Nicholas 2008). A similar process was done in Taiwan too. During the SARS period, five hospitals, including Taipei Veteran’s General Hospital, implemented RFID tags to track patients who had possibility contracted the SARS virus (Kuo et al. 2004 ) with strong government support.

One peculiar characteristic of this system as compared to other systems is that visually impaired people are both the reader carrier and the service beneficiaries, simultaneously. Generally in government service delivery using RFID technology, the service provider usually carries RFID tag readers and service beneficiaries usually act more passive roles by attaching RFID tags. But in this Pakistani case, the service beneficiaries can identify objects around them by operating RFID tag reader they have.

The Australian government passed legislation on mandatory use of RFID tags in the livestock industry, so Hossain and Quaddus ( 2014 ) categorized Australian case as a very rare and special adoption case. According to Trevarthen and Michael ( 2007 )’s case study, one of the Australian farms where the RFID tag is implemented, farmers not only track the exact location of the cows but also check the condition, identify cows and even feed the new born cows automatically by using an RFID system.

Usually people throw waste in various places. They may throw it away at their houses or at work places, like an office. Since the RFID tag is only attached to a garbage can in house, it is impossible to track all types of waste throwing behaviors. Inevitably, this shortage of storage capacity leads to selective waste collection monitoring.

The faraday cage is an object in metal; proponents of this device argue that faraday cage can prevent hacker’s attack because electronic devices are prevented from passing through the object (Ezovski et al. 2007). But speculation about stability of this technology still remains. Lorenc ( 2007 ) reported that if there is no additional technology, the faraday cage cannot preserve sensitive security.

As a matter of fact, there are two kinds of RFID tags, the passive tag and the active tag. These two tags provide owners with different benefits and liabilities. Active tags are implemented by a power source, such as small battery. Active tags are more efficient and safe in protecting privacy than passive tags, so sensitive organizations like military prefer active tags to passive tags. But ordinary consumers have less accessibility to active tags because active tags are much more expensive than passive ones (Jensen et al. 2007 ).

According to Laurie ( 2007 ), even without physically losing an RFID tag, private information can be stolen because what’s inside RFID tags can be skimmed quite easily. If we can build a device that enables us to transmit an arbitrary number, invading the internet based database is theoretically possible.

For instance, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Procter & Gamble Co. in autumn 2003 planned a very interesting experiment to check the potential deficiencies of RFID technology. Customers of a Wal-Mart store in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma were secretly tracked through RFID tags while purchasing lipstick that Procter & Gamble Co. made (Barut et al. 2006 ).

For instance, Hwang et al. ( 2009 ) and Numann & Hogben (2009) categorized various kinds of privacy attack cases that can possibly occur. According Hwang et al. ( 2009 ), technological deficiency enables hackers to engage in cloning, eavesdropping, replay attack, denial of service, forward security, tag tracing, individual data privacy, and data forging. Specifically, the hacker can read the tag and then clone the tag (cloning), surreptitiously listen to all the communications between and the tag (eavesdropping), repeat or delay the message (replay attack), send large amount of message to break down RFID system (denial of service), compromise a tag (forward security), trace the exact location of the tag (tag tracing), find out shopping trend of the consumer (individual data privacy), and modify information saved on an RFID tag (Data forging). In addition, Numann and Hogben (2008) categorized the privacy attacking cases more briefly. According to their research, the hacker can attack RFID tag in some ways. First, the attacker can open a connection to the chip and can steal the data inside (skimming). Second, the attacker can intercept the communication between tag and reader (eavesdropping). Last, the attacker can track the exact location of the tag or the person.

In Thailand, most of the farms are trying to adopt an RFID system in farm management, but RFID technology is widening the gap between poor and rich farmers. Poor farmers are usually less educated people who have hardly had any experience using digital technology like RFID. On the other hand, well-educated wealthy farmers face low entry barriers and easily adopt the technology. Rich farmers armed with innovative technology not only make enormous fortunes by increasing efficiency but also by replacing poor labors with RFID embedded devices. According to the Thailand Ministry of Labor (2006), most farm labors are afraid of being replaced. Unfortunately, this phenomenon eventually correlates to a serious gap between rich and poor.

The government has invested a huge amount of money to buy necessary devices such as readers, tags, hardware, and so on, but in the long run cost of management will decrease. On the other hand, the waste industry could carry a very heavy debt. The waste contractors have to deal with expensive RFID tag rental and as well as the cost of construction simultaneously. Although this situation is totally unfavorable for them, the waste management industry cannot resist to this policy because the Chinese government is the entity which has made the use of RFID policy and set prices. The industry has no other choice but consent.

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This paper was supported by the research grant of Seoul National University Foundation (Korea Institute of Public Affairs) in 2015.

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Jung, K., Lee, S. A systematic review of RFID applications and diffusion: key areas and public policy issues. J. open innov. 1 , 9 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40852-015-0010-z

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Journal of Enterprise Information Management

ISSN : 1741-0398

Article publication date: 7 June 2021

Issue publication date: 8 March 2022

The findings of this paper throw light on the focal research areas within RFID in the supply chain, which serves as an effective guideline for future research in this area. This research, therefore, contributes to filling the gap by carrying out an SLR of contemporary research studies in the area of RFID applications in supply chains. To date, SLR augmented with BA has not been used to study the developments in RFID applications in supply chains.

Design/methodology/approach

We analyze 556 articles from years 2001 to date using Systematic Literature Review (SLR). Contemporary bibliometric analysis (BA) tools are utilized. First, an exploratory analysis is carried, out revealing influential authors, sources, regions, among other key aspects. Second, a co-citation work analysis is utilized to understand the conceptual structure of the literature, followed by a dynamic co-citation network to reveal the evolution of the field. This is followed by a multivariate analysis is performed on top-100 cited papers, and k -means clustering is carried out to find optimal groups and identify research themes. The influential themes are then pointed out using factor analysis.

An exploratory analysis is carried out using BA tools to provide insights into factors such as influential authors, production countries, top-cited papers and frequent keywords. Visualization of bibliographical data using co-citation network analysis and keyword co-occurrence analysis assisted in understanding the groups (communities) of research themes. We employed k -means clustering and factor analysis methods to further develop these insights. A historiographical direct citation analysis also unveils potential research directions. We observe that RFID applications in the supply chain are likely to benefit from the Internet of Things and blockchain Technology along with the other machine learning and visualization approaches.

Originality/value

Although several researchers have researched RFID literature in relation to supply chains, these reviews are often conducted in the traditional manner where the author(s) select paper based on their area of expertise, interest and experience. Limitation of such reviews includes authors’ selection bias of studies to be included and limited or no use of advanced BA tools for analysis. This study fills this research gap by conducting an SLR of RFID in supply chains to identify important research trends in this field through the use of advanced BA tools.

  • Supply chain
  • Bibliometric analysis
  • Systematic literature review
  • Network analysis
  • Cocitation analysis
  • Multivariate analysis
  • Factor analysis

Raza, S.A. (2022), "A systematic literature review of RFID in supply chain management", Journal of Enterprise Information Management , Vol. 35 No. 2, pp. 617-649. https://doi.org/10.1108/JEIM-08-2020-0322

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  1. THE RFID TECHNOLOGY AND ITS APPLICATIONS: A REVIEW

    This research paper introduces an innovative smart fuel dispenser system that leverages RFID technology and IoT-based monitoring to enhance automotive fuelling processes.

  2. An introduction to RFID technology

    Abstract: In recent years, radio frequency identification technology has moved from obscurity into mainstream applications that help speed the handling of manufactured goods and materials. RFID enables identification from a distance, and unlike earlier bar-code technology, it does so without requiring a line of sight. In this paper, the author introduces the principles of RFID, discusses its ...

  3. Enhancing supply chain performance using RFID ...

    The research follows a systematic literature review approach to explore the academic research on RFID and decision support systems in light of Industry 4.0. This study identifies the significance of RFID in enhancing operations and supply chain management activities. ... This paper illustrates the role of RFID in various aspects of supply chains.

  4. RFID: A key technology for Humanity

    The RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) technology is a well-known wireless application for traceability, logistics, and access control. ... The first part of this paper briefly reviews the fundamental concepts of the RFID technology, and shows its link with the radio science. ... H. Yuan, L. Jiang, X. Zang, The research on blind navigation ...

  5. A systematic review of RFID applications and diffusion: key areas and

    Further research on RFID impact includes not only various theoretical issues of but also legal and managerial problems. Rigorous research is required to explore what factors are critical to adopt and implement new RFID applications in terms of technology governance and digital literacy. ... We chose relevant research papers from among experts ...

  6. A systematic literature review on the benefit-drivers of RFID

    The remainder of this paper is organized as follows: In the next section, we discuss the methodology used for the systematic literature review including how research articles are collected, categorized and synthesized. ... Radio frequency identification (RFID): Research trends and framework. International Journal of Production Research, 48(9 ...

  7. RFID research: An academic literature review (1995-2005) and future

    RFID research has led to the emergence of a new academic research area that builds on existing research in a host of disciplines, such as electronic engineering, information systems, computer science, and business strategy, and there has been a significant increase in the number of papers on RFID in research journals. Curtin et al. ...

  8. IEEE Journal of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)

    The IEEE Journal of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) publishes peer-reviewed manuscripts addressing various aspects of RFID systems. The articles describe advances in theory, algorithms, design techniques, implementations, and applications of RFID systems. Both emerging research and commercial trends in the rapidly evolving field of RFID are covered.

  9. Computation

    Radio frequency identification (RFID) is widely used in several contexts, such as logistics, supply chains, asset tracking, and health, among others, therefore drawing the attention of many researchers. This paper presents a review of the most cited topics regarding RFID focused on applications, security, and privacy. A total of 62,685 records were downloaded from the Web of Science (WoS) and ...

  10. A Framework for the Implementation of RFID Systems

    This paper presents a systematic and holistic RFID implementation framework which has been validated by both users and experts. The framework outlines the important tasks to be performed in each step of the implementation process. ... Figure 3 depicts the research methodology of this study. A search of English language articles published in ...

  11. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) in health care: where ...

    Purpose (RFID) is a technology that uses radio waves for data collection and transfer, so data is captured efficiently, automatically and in real time without human intervention. This technology, alone or in addition to other technologies has been considered as a possible solution to reduce problems that endanger public health or to improve its management. This scoping review aims to provide ...

  12. Systematic Mapping Study on RFID Technology

    Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a technology that not only serves to identify objects but also communicates other information, allowing the real-time monitoring of objects at each step in a mobile object network and the reporting of information on their current status. RFID has become one of the most promising research areas and has attracted increasing attention. This interest sparks ...

  13. A Review of RFID Sensors, the New Frontier of Internet of Things

    1. Introduction. Radio frequency identification (RFID) is a low-cost wireless technology that makes possible the connection of billions of things, enabling consumers and businesses to engage, identify, locate, transact, and authenticate products [].The general RFID market has seen a considerable growth over the past few years in terms of the number of RFID tags sold.

  14. A systematic review of RFID applications and diffusion ...

    A brief history of RFID technology. RFID technology was emerged as Frederick Hertz found existence of radio frequency during his experiment in 1886 (Wyld, 2005) and developed for the purpose of defense during the Second World War Footnote 4.During 1970s and 1980s, the RFID system attracted plenty of scholars and innovators, so efforts to register patents progressed (Takahashi, 2004).

  15. An Overview on RFID Technology Instruction and Application

    This paper provides a non-exhaustive, rather earlier than recent, overview of contributions in the field of Radio Frequency Identification technology (RFID), and its use in several sectors. The multidisciplinary nature of this emerging technology requires skills from various engineering fields. Due to the growing use of RFID in various economic ...

  16. A systematic literature review of RFID in supply chain management

    Purpose. The findings of this paper throw light on the focal research areas within RFID in the supply chain, which serves as an effective guideline for future research in this area. This research, therefore, contributes to filling the gap by carrying out an SLR of contemporary research studies in the area of RFID applications in supply chains.

  17. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology and patient safety

    INTRODUCTION. At least 44,000 people, and perhaps as many as 98,000 people, die in hospitals each year as a result of medical errors that could have been prevented.[]Radio frequency identification (RFID) is a wireless technology capable of automatic and unambiguous identification without line of sight by extracting a unique identifier from microelectronic tags attached to objects.[]

  18. A Novel Approach to High Performance of RFID-Based Asset Tracking in a

    Radio frequency identification (RFID) is widely recognized as one of the techniques to track information technology (IT) assets in the data center. However, detuning and multipath interference caused by the nearly all-metal environment of the data center inherently result in false positives and false negatives. The purpose of the study is to investigate the challenge of tracking assets with a ...

  19. Review of RFID and IoT integration in supply chain management

    The paper was organized into four major discussion topics: product manufacturing, shipping and distribution, inventory and retail shop management, aiming to provide an overview for academicians to establish new research domains and practitioners to consider RFID-IoT adoption to solve the real-world problem.

  20. A literature review on the impact of RFID technologies on supply chain

    Similar papers on the value of RFID in supply chains were published by Kambil and Brooks (2002), Chappell et al., ... In this study, they conduct the research and development of an RFID prototype system on a local depot to analyze the impacts of the RFID system on locating, tracking and managing the containers in the depot. ...

  21. A review of challenges and barriers implementing RFID technology in the

    In this paper, we discussed the features of RFID in the healthcare sector and highlighted the current challenges faced by the healthcare industry while implementing the RFID technology related to asset tracking and patient data management. Several other pot barricades of implementation were identified and discussed. ... RFID systems: research ...