The Role of RFID in Medical Devices (S1:E45)

December 15, 2022

Stefan Genser, Identiv’s Director of Sales for RFID/Transponder Solutions in EMEA, joins us on this episode to discuss the role of RFID and NFC in medical devices and healthcare environments. He covers the four major challenges in the medical industry right now and what digital transformation looks like in healthcare via RFID technology.


Full Transcript

Voiceover: You're listening to Humans in Tech. Our podcast explores today's most transformative technology and the trends of tomorrow, bringing together the brightest minds in and outside of our industry. We unpack what's new in physical access, identity verification, cyber security, and IoT ecosystems. We reach beyond the physical world, discuss our digital transformation as a species, and dive into the emerging Phygital [00:00:30] experience. Join us on our journey as we discover just how connected the future will be and how we will fit into that picture. Your host is Leigh Dow, VP of Global Marketing at Identiv.

Leigh Dow: Thank you for tuning in today. Joining us is Stefan Genser, Sales Director for RFID, Transponder Solutions, and EMEA working for Identiv. Stefan is here to discuss the role of RFID and NFC in medical and healthcare environments. Hi Stefan. Thank you so much for speaking with me today. I know [00:01:00] you're in Germany right now, so it's a bit later there.

Stefan Genser: It is, yeah. Thank you, Leigh. Great to be here.

Leigh Dow: First I'd like for you to tell us about your background and experience in this industry and also about your role at Identiv.

Stefan Genser: So, okay, my name is Stefan Genser, as you already said in the beginning, and I'm Sales Director for Transponders at Identiv, responsible for EMEA region. Originally, I'm from Austria. I'm now living in Germany near Munich, where also Identiv's R&D headquarters is located. [00:01:30] And in my role, I'm strongly focusing on business development in emerging markets like the healthcare and medical industry where we right now face an incredible amount of ideas for applications with NFC, RFID technology. That's a bit of my background. My educational background on university level is innovation management and computer sciences. So I think I always had a big interest in new technologies and in digital solutions [00:02:00] and in general, how to turn these great new ideas into winning business solutions for the future.

After my graduation from university, I quickly entered the world of NFC and RFID and I got in touch with first customers and companies in the healthcare and medical industry. As you can imagine, they wanted to use the power of wireless data transmission for quite a lot of different purposes. So this could be to communicate with a tiny robot [00:02:30] pill that you just swallowed or they wanted, on an automation level to improve the overall efficiency in manufacturing plans and logistics. So, that's all what came up here in the industry is strongly discussing these topics anyway. So right now the medical industry is anyway facing quite big challenges and I think NFC RFID could provide several good solutions for this.

Leigh Dow: So what do you think the biggest fundamental challenges [00:03:00] are facing the healthcare industry?

Stefan Genser: Well, in general, we can say that there are four major challenges in the healthcare and medical industry right now. We have firstly, the rapidly increasing medical demand, which our whole society has. So this is driven by overall growing patient expectations, which we all have, by an increasing number of people that are suffering from chronic illnesses, for example, and also by a strongly aging population. [00:03:30] We are getting older and older, all in all. So this is a big challenge.

The second one is, and this one is not just since the pandemic, it is a shortage of healthcare professionals. So this is not only in some regions, but it's really affecting the global world. Those who are employed in the industry, they are suffering from massive workloads and the demands for remote care possibilities is also increasing. It's really a big challenge for our future.

The third one, which we [00:04:00] see, are the large expenditures for health services in general and on a global level. So we talk about nearly 10% of the global GDP in 2019 and new solutions for the industry, they are also always evaluated under the aspect of reducing financial pressures from now on. So it's the high expenses in this area.

And the fourth one and the last one, which I would like to mention are the counterfeit medication. So the [00:04:30] WHO considers this as one of the urgent healthcare challenges for the next decade. So we are talking here about fake drugs and gray market diversion. Yet this problem is in all leading to a substantial negative impact on brand values. And this is a very important part for all of our pharmacy and medical brands, which we have. So looking at these four challenges, as you can imagine, the industry now needs to develop solutions to tackle these, and the ability to digitally transform processes and products [00:05:00] will be the key for the success here, in my opinion.

Leigh Dow: So as technology is constantly changing, what does that digital transformation in healthcare look like right now?

Stefan Genser: Well put simple. We can say that everything in our healthcare environment will get connected or is already connected. So there are more and more smart devices in the market for in-home, but also for clinical environments. And these devices, they include smartphones, but also other variables, which we have the smart watchers or things like [00:05:30] that. So people are able meanwhile to monitor their own health and manage their illnesses a little bit on their own. And beside that, we have also new telehealth services that already helped to lower the workload of the industry a bit. But this whole connected devices things, this is quite nice. And thanks to all these connected devices, we can also improve the overall efficiency of the medical and healthcare system, which is of course what we want. On the patient side, they benefit [00:06:00] from less stressful, more accurate and much faster treatments, and also hospitals and doctors of course can operate with much higher efficiency.

Last, what is very important regarding digital transformation is the topic security. So this one will need much bigger consideration in future as well. What is it about? So we are transmitting with NFC and with all those wireless communication technologies, sensitive patient data all the time, [00:06:30] and now we need also to secure security authentication of medication. We also need the hardware and software to secure and protect our own data too. NFC RFID, in fact is a perfect fit here because we have security features which provide exactly this high level of safety that is needed for the digital transformation and all this data exchange in this area.

Leigh Dow: I think it's such an interesting time. I know both of us [00:07:00] participate in a lot of different industry forums that have healthcare task forces and just the conversations that go on in those forums are really interesting to me because I haven't worked in the healthcare field before and just listening to some of the problems that they're trying to solve and the technology that they're using to do that and the rules and regulations around that, or in some cases, the lack of rules and regulations around things that probably should be regulated. It's just a really interesting time in the industry. [00:07:30] So how can RFID specifically NFC tackle the challenges facing healthcare, like increased medical demand and the shortage of healthcare professionals?

Stefan Genser: The increased overall medical demand and also the shortage of healthcare professionals. These problems that trigger definitely a lot of solutions that provide the same or even better treatment or performance by the use of fewer resources. So, first solution in this area, for [00:08:00] example, can be to enable direct one-on-one patient interaction by using NFC techs. So when you have an NFC tech on your product, of course you can read them out by your smartphone. It's not just like a reading a QR code, but it's a reading with an additional safety feature. So you can automatically also authenticate if the product is genuine or if it's fake. So if this works well, you don't need a lot of personal support anymore because by tapping the NFC tech with your smartphone, [00:08:30] you can get all the information that you need. Also, individually customized information. This includes, for example, that customers can check, as I said before, if a product is genuine or if it's for example still sealed. So if the boxing is still unbroken, they can access information on demand, for example, regarding the dosage that they need regarding expiration dates or side effects.

But we also think about application where this [00:09:00] one-on-one patient interaction leads to the possibility to directly reorder from a website where it's leading you to. So you don't need to search for exactly the same product on Google anymore, but you just be led to the website where you can reorder it. And in the worst case, you can even provide support for product recalls. So if you're tapping your medication, it tells you "Watch out there is an incident" [00:09:30] or "It's important that you bring back this product to your pharmacy because there was something happening before." So this one on one patient interaction is really a big help to tackle this big demand which we are facing now in future.

Another big help here are definitely smart diagnostic devices. So these are more or less smart test kits where NFC techs can be used for authentication again, but also for instructions. [00:10:00] And when you use this NFC tech, you can combine it and to provide reliable sensor measurements, for example, temperature or anything else. And with NFC and with the possibility to work with the ID on the tech, you can also grant access to your anonymous test results. So also for data protection side, this is really nice.

Leigh Dow: What about the more, Oh, I'm sorry, go ahead. I but wait, there's more.

Stefan Genser: There's a bit more, Yeah.

Leigh Dow: Yeah, [00:10:30] go ahead.

Stefan Genser: So what I'm also thinking about regarding and if NCF RFID is that you can more or less check the adherence history in your app. So when you need to take your medication, you can also check when you have to take it, how much you have to take it, and if you forget to take it, you can set a reminder on your smartphone that reminds you to take your medication. So whenever you're taking your pill or you are administering a dose from a syringe, you can tap [00:11:00] the device and it automatically logs into your app when it was taken, how much it was taken, and if it's done correctly as planned and instructed by the doctor. And yeah, this in general gives good overview on how we can tackle this one challenge and which strategies there are regarding this increased medical demand and shortage in healthcare professionals.

Leigh Dow: I also think it's really interesting that you can now share, choose to share much more information [00:11:30] with your medical provider or your pharmacist and allow them to be part of your healthcare journey in a completely different way. So for instance, like you mentioned about when you take your medication, are you taking the right amount at the right time? There are opportunities to share that data with your healthcare provider and allow them to help you have better outcomes and ...

Stefan Genser: Absolutely.

Leigh Dow: And that sort of thing.

Stefan Genser: You're lucky if you have a pharmacy that supports things like that.

Leigh Dow: [00:12:00] Yeah, for sure. What do you see being some of the large health expenditures and counterfeit medication issues?

Stefan Genser: Well, here we are talking on the one hand about solutions for supply chain and inventory control, when we are talking about large health expenditures, because that's the place where we can really improve the efficiency of the overall system. So RFID gives us the possibility to identify tech products without any line of sight. So it is possible to quickly [00:12:30] read the inventory of a box to make automatic compliance checks for the best before dates or for temperature. Also, checking the global movements of goods is possible in order to avoid any great market issues. So that's all what's possible with NFC and R F I D tech technology. And this is a main driver of these large health expenditures which we are facing. So on the other hand, also to lower the health expenditures, we can see that's [00:13:00] the therapy adherence which we had before is playing a key role because we had this topic before for another reason. But following the medication plan correctly is simply also preventing our system to pay twice for the same treatment just because the treatment was done not correctly.

The last important topic to reduce expenditures, in my opinion, is the reduction of manual processes in general. [00:13:30] So we see a lot of potential for automation and so many different areas, and you can use NFC in all of them. So this includes the automation in regular temperature measurements, for example, the automation in the configuration of devices or in the identification of consumables. So automation during the production, during delivery, during the distribution, also during the last mile to the customer. There are all points where you can read out by smartphone, automate processes. [00:14:00] You don't have to have those manual works anymore in between. These manual processes can be substituted by automatized processes using NFC techs and a certain app for this. And we all have a smartphone everywhere with us, so just make use of it.

And the second topic, it was the the counterfeit issue. So we see three possibilities how NFC techs can be used to avoid these counterfeit medications in futures. [00:14:30] So first is just to read or detect with, which is having advanced chip security features and using cryptographic techniques for robust authentication. It is possible to duplicate a QR code, for example, but to duplicate an NFC tech with those features, it's impossible, and you can always guarantee that a product is genuine and not fake. Another solution is a so-called anti tampering protection. So this is an electronic seal to [00:15:00] check whether product packaging has been opened prior to sale or usage. So once the seal of an NFC tech is broken, you cannot repair it anymore. And when you read it out by your smartphone, you always get the response, "Hey, watch out. This product has been opened before". It will not tell you what happened. It will just tell you that it was opened before that the seal was broken.

Last possibility for this counterfeit issue is that you can use also tamper proof NFC tags. So this is a certain kind of [00:15:30] NFC tags, which are simply mechanically destroyed when you try to remove them from a product. So if a tag is missing on your product, you should become suspicious and pay attention. Yeah, this is how I see NFC and RFID as a good technology to improve the efficiency and to avoid counterfeit medication, yeah.

Leigh Dow: What do you see in the future for RFID and NFC in medical and healthcare?

Stefan Genser: Well, I think that our smartphone [00:16:00] will become a major communication channel. It's nowadays not in the medical and healthcare industry, but it will get. So we already learned how to read a QR code in restaurants, for example, in order to get the menu on the screen. But when using NFC techs, you can have the same user experience, but with a lot more safety and security, which is definitely essential for the industry. I mean, just get in touch with your doctor, with your pharmacy, with your favorite pharma brand or with another expert of your choice. This is all possible [00:16:30] with NFC and yeah, let's make use of it, I think.

Leigh Dow: Yeah. And then I guess the other part of that too, right, is the adoption of standards and specific certifications and things like that, that the industry consortiums are driving. I think that'll be a huge part of it as well.

Stefan Genser: Absolutely. And it's an important part because of course we can all make our closed loop systems for our RFID and NFC technology is just working within the boundaries. But also, as a charity healthcare task force of [00:17:00] NFC forum, I'm talking a lot to industry experts who are looking for standards, global standards so that everyone is using the same procedure to read out NFC tech to store the same data on the techs, on the memory, and to have the same experience worldwide. It doesn't matter if it's a different supplier. So it's all about a user, an end user, patient-centered process, and that's what we want to make use off with NFC. Yeah?

Leigh Dow: Yeah. [00:17:30] I had a really cool demo the other day of a software platform that manages regulatory information for medical device manufacturers. And just going through that and seeing all of the different global regulatory standards, I mean, just trying to keep track of that alone, just the mass volume of that and how frequently it changes in the United States, right? We've got FDA regulations, but you have similar things all [00:18:00] around the world, and that platform was trying to make it easier for medical device manufacturers to manage all of that. And at the same time, we've got different industry organizations working on standards and certifications, and those are the things that to some degree introduce complexity. But getting on open standards and things like that also reduce complexity. And it's that reduction of complexity that's really important to adoption. [00:18:30] So I think that it's great that, you are able to, and other people in the team are able to participate in a lot of those industry forums and help drive those.

Stefan Genser: It's really a big channel of compliance and the differences between the different regions in the world are so big. So if we want to have a global user experience, which is in the end of course, the most efficient way, we need to talk to each other and [00:19:00] to agree on standards for the future. There are not yet many in this region, but we are working on it.

Leigh Dow: Well, thank you so much for joining us for this episode of the Humans and Tech podcast. Stefan, really appreciate you taking the time out of your evening, especially on a Friday.

Stefan Genser: Thank you too. Yes. And have a great weekend.

Leigh Dow: You too. Bye.

Stefan Genser: Bye-bye.

Leigh Dow: If you enjoyed this podcast, please like and subscribe. We drop a new episode every Thursday.

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