SATO’s UHF RFID Direct Thermal Wristbands are designed to be printed and encoded at healthcare facilities upon patient admission for automatic identification within a distance of approximately 6 feet, or to track movement through a fixed RFID reader portal.

smart wristband

After trialling UHF RFID-enabled patient wristbands over the past few months, a hospital in Switzerland is deploying the technology to identify patients and view their movements through their surgical field to improve efficiency and reduce and leverage patient flow information.

The system consists of an RFID-enabled wristband that was developed by SATO and is being released commercially. The company reports that the bracelet can be printed and coded on the spot when a patient is admitted, and it can then learn about that person through a built-in RFID tag.

The system utilizes SATO’s Application Enabled Printing (AEP) solution, including its 4-inch desktop printer and thermal (DT) wristband. For a typical deployment, the technology partner provides middleware integration so that each patient’s wristband can be automatically linked to the individual’s data in the hospital’s own software platform. SATO declined to name the Swiss hospital, which it said was the first adopter in the early stages of deployment.

Table of Contents

Speech Report on the Smart Wristband

SATO has released a UHF RFID-enabled thermal wristband for automatic identification and tracking of a patient’s location in a healthcare facility, said Kevin Arart, head of SATO’s global healthcare practice. The company is currently in discussions with a number of hospitals and care centers around the world to provide an affordable and easy-to-deploy RFID system that will provide accurate reads at a distance of 2 meters, which is a typical read range Overhead card readers at doorways or hallways, or handheld readers.

rfid enabled

SATO’s customers reported that hospitals faced several challenges associated with using wristbands with bar codes or printed text. One, the company explained, is a safety issue, as healthcare providers viewing or scanning bar codes on wristbands are in close contact with patients, some of whom have infectious diseases such as COVID-19.

Another involves identifying patients without disturbing them — for example, when they are asleep. Third, Allart said, hospitals struggle to manage patient flow and don’t know where a particular patient might be or might have been. This can lead to security issues as well as inefficiencies.

For the past 20 years, SATO has been offering printable wristbands that support barcodes, said Motoaki Hirata, SATO RFID International Business Development Manager. “Most customers in the market think of SATO as a printer manufacturer,” Hirata said, but over the past two years, many of its healthcare customers have requested printable solutions that include automatic identification.

He noted that while existing wristband solutions are based on RFID, most involve active technology, and wristbands require batteries, making them expensive. “We were able to leverage our expertise in antimicrobial materials and printing to use RFID tags for fully integrated products.”

Hirata explained that UHF systems present some challenges in terms of read range. To solve this problem, SATO designed an extended “flag” on the wristband that separates the antenna from the wearer’s wrist, thus providing enough distance from the body for a more reliable read.

SATO’s DT wristband is designed to transmit data within a range of 2 to 3 meters, which the company says is optimal for accurate readings using ceiling-mounted or handheld readers. Users print each wristband on demand using SATO’s CT4-LX UHF printer.

The Principle and Application of the Smart Wristband

The system typically works as follows: When patients arrive at a hospital for treatment, their information is entered and stored in the facility’s patient management system.

smart wristband

The administrator can then order the printer to print a wristband with a unique ID number associated with the patient data. The strap is made of an antimicrobial material and designed to be soft and comfortable, Hirata said. It’s placed on the patient’s arm, with the RFID-embedded end acting as a flag, raised above the wrist for better transmission — about 2.4 inches. SATO uses the latest generation of integrated circuits available for wristbands.

The company reports that the wristband can be used in a variety of ways. If a patient needs to be identified after entering a room or unit for security and identification purposes, healthcare providers can use a handheld reader pointed within 2 meters of the patient’s RFID wristband and the user can view details of that patient without disturbing them or get close to them.

In many cases, hospitals are looking to further automate the collection of location data by understanding the flow of patients through critical parts of their facilities without the need for handheld scans. This Swiss hospital is using overhead RFID readers mounted above doorways or on corridor ceilings.

The reader sends an interrogation transmission which is captured by the wristband tag, and each response containing the tag’s unique ID number is captured by the reader. The device uses the angle of arrival and received signal strength to identify the direction in which the wristband and the patient wearing it is moving — such as entering and leaving a room.

If the wristband needs to be removed (for example, during an MRI test), the wristband is cut from the person’s wrist. The printer can then scan the wristband’s bar code to print a new wristband with the same ID while the previous one is discarded.

SATO said hospitals could use wristbands to capture security data in real time. For example, software used with the wristband can identify unauthorized patient movement, such as an individual entering or leaving an unapproved area.

The reader will capture the tag ID and the software will determine if the person is allowed in or out. If not, an alert may be triggered. The system was tested in a crowded, busy environment with multiple people passing within range, moving in different directions. The results showed that “any patient who walked by at a normal pace could be identified,” Allart said.

The Long-term Outlook of the Smart Wristband

Printers can be deployed at a hospital nurse’s station, patient room or admission area. Due to the cost involved, most institutions do not anticipate issuing an RFID wristband to every patient.

Patients who don’t need to be closely monitored can use lower-cost barcoded wristbands. Others, such as those in the geriatrics or surgical fields, or those with COVID-19, may receive the RFID version. SATO is now offering the system globally and is in discussions with other hospitals in Europe and North America to deploy the wristbands in their facilities. “The wristband is designed to be used anywhere,” Allart said, “including the European Union, North America and Asia.”

Allart explained that the type of data facility one hopes to collect varies by geography. European hospitals have expressed interest in data management so they can better understand patient flow and receive real-time alerts to allocate resources accordingly and reduce costs. “When you extract data from your readers, you have a lot of power,” he said. In the US, on the other hand, some interest initially focused on the safety of newborns, making sure they were properly identified and that no babies left the infant ward without authorization.

Additionally, Hirata said, the wristband’s RFID inlay was designed using an environmentally friendly manufacturing process. While standard RFID tags are manufactured by etching the antenna into the PET material, at SATO’s Japanese manufacturing base, the antenna is manufactured without harmful solvents or waste liquids, and the aluminum waste from the tag antenna is recycled.

Allart predicts that the technology will initially relieve employees of costly, time-consuming ID checks, but in the long run, he said, “I see RFID wristbands growing in the healthcare market.” He envisions the wristbands being used for a variety of other services, such as patients using their wristbands to pay for purchases or remotely manage their in-room TVs. If the sensor is connected to the wristband, the system can identify if any patients have fallen and monitor their vital signs. “

Share to: