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RFID tags eyed to track Washington-area patients in case of disaster

The government wants to use a radio frequency identification system to track certain Washington-area hospital patients in case of disaster, and is seeking small- or veteran-owned businesses to do the job.

The National Naval Medical Center, National Institutes of Health Clinical Center and Suburban Hospital are interested in using RFID tags to track and locate patients in real time, down to specific hospital rooms, with an accuracy rate of 95 percent. The Defense Department currently uses such tags to monitor the movement and location of large shipping containers.

Active RFID tags are battery-powered and have a range of about 300 feet, while passive tags, which lack batteries, have a range of about 30 feet.

The hospitals already are connected by a sophisticated communications system, which includes dedicated fiber-optic circuits and wireless communications systems. In a Sources Sought Notice, the National Library of Medicine, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, said the hospital partnership has a "critical need" for an RFID and Real-Time Location System to track disaster victims and medical assets in all three hospitals.

The notice is intended for market research and is not an official solicitation by the government. The National Library of Medicine is in charge of the planning and procurement of the RFID tags for the hospitals, which are part of the Bethesda Hospitals' Emergency Preparedness Partnership. Congress established the partnership in 2004 to provide a joint response to any local, regional or national emergency.

The RFID and Real-Time Location System developed for the partnership hospitals should include a Web-based, real-time, patient-tracking application to monitor and view the location of mass casualties within the designated disaster response areas in each hospital, NLM said in the notice. The RFID system should operate on a separate and stand-alone network, NLM added.

Tom Bednarczyk president of Silver Lining Partners LLC, a veteran-owned business in Naugatuck, Conn., said the use of RFID to monitor hospital patients after a disaster stands out as a unique application of a technology normally used to track supplies.

Bednarczyk also said he viewed the 95 percent accuracy requirement as challenging but doable. It will require, however, multiple RFID antennas and readers, he added.

Responses from vendors to the National Library of Medicine on the RFID project were due on Aug. 24.

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