Wanted: 'Live' tracking system for blood products

HSA seeking system that can give real-time temperature updates, even when in transit

Singapore's national blood authority is looking to introduce a "live" tracking system to manage blood products from the moment they are collected to the time they arrive at hospitals.

Ideally, the system will also be able to monitor the temperature of blood products, or components of blood such as red blood cells or platelets, even when they are in transit.

The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) put up a request for information on government website GeBiz earlier this month to examine the use of radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags for this purpose.

These tiny tags, which can be smaller than a grain of sand, can store information and wirelessly transmit it to RFID readers. They have been used to track library books and ez-link cards, and to manage medication and surgical supplies in hospitals.

"While RFID is an established technology, its application to blood supply management is relatively new," said an HSA spokesman in response to queries from The Straits Times. He said more information would be released in due course.

Currently, the HSA uses an electronic system to keep track of its inventory, donor records and blood transfusion data. However, this system cannot give real-time updates on blood stocks.

"The system does not track actual product location and movement, and this makes product retrieval laborious," said the HSA in a letter to interested operators that was seen by The Straits Times.

Its proposed RFID-enabled system will be able to give staff live updates on blood stocks at the HSA as well as the various hospitals.

It will also trigger alerts when blood products are about to expire, or when the wrong bag of blood is retrieved for a specific patient.

In addition, the proposed system will be able to accurately track the temperature of blood products throughout the entire delivery.

Different components of blood - such as red blood cells, platelets or plasma - have to be stored at temperatures varying between minus 80 and 22 deg C.

"To preserve efficacy, these products are transported using cooler boxes with ice packs," the HSA said in its letter.

Currently, it is assumed that they have stayed at the correct temperature throughout the journey as long as they are measured to be at the acceptable ranges when they reach hospitals.

A total of 108,058 blood donations were made in 2014, about a third of which occurred at mobile blood-donation centres, or bloodmobiles.

After blood is collected, it typically goes through testing for various diseases, and then gets separated into different components before they are sent to hospitals.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2016, with the headline 'Wanted: 'Live' tracking system for blood products'. Print Edition | Subscribe