Font Size

- Aa +

Fri 22 Aug 2008 04:00 AM

Font Size

- Aa +

Cards not so smart for hospitals

Smart cards widely used as access tags or to carry a patient's medical information, can switch off critical care equipment.

Smart cards widely used as access tags or to carry a patient's medical information, can switch off critical care equipment.

The cards use a radio frequency identification (RFID) system which, when triggered, emits a signal that identifies its user.

Now a study has shown this signal may interfere with medical devices causing some machines, including mechanical ventilators, to switch off.

A number of healthcare facilities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) utilise smart cards. The Imperial College London Diabetes Centre, a Mubadala project, issues cards to patients, while the Health Authority Abu Dhabi and the Dubai Health Authority are both rumoured to be trialling the cards for use in health insurance schemes.

Remko van der Togt, from Vrije University in Amsterdam, and colleagues tested the cards in an intensive care unit room, with no patients present.

Devices included external pacemakers, mechanical ventilators, infusion pumps, dialysis devices, defibrillators, monitors and anaesthesia devices.

In a quarter of 123 tests, the signal from the smart cards interfered with equipment. In one in six cases the interference was classed as "hazardous" and included causing ventilators, syringe pumps and external pacemakers to malfunction.

The cards also tampered with the atrial and ventricular electrogram curve read by the pacemaker programmer.

Yet, the tags had to be held close to the equipment to trigger a reaction, show the findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Typically a smart card had to be placed around 12 inches from a machine to cause interference and around 10 inches to trigger a "hazardous" incident.

Dr Donald M. Berwick of the US Institute for Healthcare Improvement said the study highlighted the need for close examination of technology used in the medical field.

For all the latest health tips & news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.