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Company Introduces RFID-Embedded Medical Test Tubes

The test tubes are pricey, but the automated information collection helps avoid human error and can help health-care companies meet FDA regulations.
In a sign that radio-frequency identification technology is making headway in the medical field, Smart Medical Technologies Inc. tomorrow will introduce a "smart" test tube embedded with an RFID chip that stores data about the tube's contents.

Smart Medical's smart test tube, featuring a 4-Kbyte passive RFID chip manufactured by Maxell Corp., is shipped with software that allows read-and-write capabilities to the tag. The test tube and software is undergoing pilot testing at the Southern California Reference Laboratory. "This application will take the laboratories by surprise because it will make the processes of getting the correct information for the specimens so much easier," says Dr. Hooshang Dalavarian, who is heading the project at the lab. "We've been [testing] the application for about seven months, and it looks very promising. [It's] more expensive than the regular test tube, but the accuracy and ease of processing will offset the cost."

Nearly two years in the making, the application stalled in production as Smart Medical waited for Maxell to perfect and deliver the tags. "We held back on the release of the product because the 4-Kbyte RFID chips weren't ready," says Jeff Giger, new business development manager at Maxell.

Maxell has dubbed the RFID chip, now ready for release, Heliport. The tag is tiny enough to fit on the bottoms of test tubes, and can store data such as patient name, address, insurance, doctor, special instructions, lab address, required tests, and more. "All the data is encrypted onto the chip with highly secure algorithms," says Mehdi Hatamian, CEO of Smart Medical Technologies.

By providing a paperless method to time-stamp doctor's orders and blood-collection times, for example, Smart Medical's smart test tube is designed to eliminate human error. It supports quality-control and data-verification requirements for anti-counterfeiting, consumer safety, and pharmaceutical-industry regulatory compliance. Plus, it's easy to use, Hatamian says.

Maxell's test tube is placed in a pen-holder carriage that syncs up through a universal serial bus port with Smart Medical software located on a PC. The software interfaces with the doctor's client database and can both read and write data to the embedded RFID chip. The software grabs the required information from the database and inserts it into the correct fields before writing the information to the chip on the test tube. The lab instructions are entered only once by the administering nurse.

The test tubes will cost about $1, compared with a few pennies for regular test tubes. Hatamian says the benefits include eliminating human error, meeting mandatory Federal Drug Administration compliance data requirements, and automating data entry and information transmission.

Smart Medical Technologies is in the process of developing other applications, too. Projects include RFID-enabled labels for drug bottles and hospital-patient wristbands that would include complete chart histories.

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