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Active vs. Passive RFID Location Tracking: Which Does Your Hospital Need?

By The Altus Team
Published Mar 08, 2022 | Updated Mar 02, 2023 | 5 min read

Hospitals require a variety of tracking instruments to keep accurate records of their equipment, devices, and even disposable items used in day-to-day patient care. When looking for new tracking equipment, RFID asset tracking is becoming the go-to for hospitals. With both passive and active RFID hospital tracking services, deciding which kind would be most beneficial for your hospital system can become confusing.

To help decide which your hospital needs we created this guide. Additionally, Altus offers both passive and active RFID tracking systems to empower your hospital system to run safely and effectively.

What are RFID tags and how are they used?

Radio Frequency Identification Tags are a type of asset tracking system that uses radio frequencies to search, track, identify, and communicate with tagged items. The tracking technology stores and organizes information, aggregating data and making it accessible across your hospital system.

RFID tags are used in asset management to keep track of all a hospital’s assets. This includes everything from equipment and its availability, medical devices, contact tracing, and, in some cases, even patients.

How RFID tags work

Each RFID tag transmits and receives information by an antenna and a microchip within the tag sometimes called an integrated circuit. You can write whatever data you choose onto your tags, giving you the flexibility and customization needed in a fast-paced hospital setting. All data is read through RFID software that empowers you to keep track of tagged items wherever they might be.

There are two main types of RFID tags, active and passive. Your hospital’s unique needs dictate which tag type best serves your hospital. Keep reading to learn more and find which kind works best for your hospital system.

Choosing RFID tracking for your hospital

Asset tracking is essential for streamlining hospital operations and ensuring accurate data exchange. RFID automates your hospital’s asset tracking, preserving resources and reducing errors that can occur during manual asset tracking and record keeping.

As hospitals expand and invest more resources in modern, mobile equipment, hospital administration must implement ways to track –– and therefore protect –– these assets. Choosing an RFID tracking system ensures you’re taking every step to secure your property and empower your team to provide efficient and effective patient care.

Understanding your needs and your purpose for asset tracking helps you choose which type of RFID tags you’ll want to implement. By familiarizing yourself with both types of tracking tags, you can make an informed decision that meets your healthcare systems’ unique asset tracking needs.

Active RFID location tracking

Active RFID tags are typically used for tracking high-value items, including the larger medical machines in your hospitals since they can track assets over greater distances. The benefits of implementing Active RFID tracking systems include:

1. Long Read Range

Active RFID tags broadcast their signals, allowing for long read ranges. Active tags operating in ultra-high frequencies can boast read ranges up to 300 feet. An active tag can be read from across a hospital floor or within a large warehouse, making asset location and data collection quick and easy.

2. Highly Durable

Active tags can support sensors that measure and communicate temperature, moisture, and light. This type of RFID tag is more durable than its passive tracking tag. It’s made to withstand harsher conditions, while still offering accurate locations of the equipment it’s attached to.

3. Built-in Power Source

Active RFID tags, sometimes called battery-operated RFIDs, don’t require an outside source of power, instead, they get power from their own battery. They also house an internal transmitter.

The battery in an active RFID tag should supply enough power for 3-5 years of use. The extended life allows hospitals to tag their assets and not worry about them for years. However, one thing to take into account is the cost. When the battery dies, the whole unit needs to be replaced.

Passive RFID location tracking

Passive RFID tags are commonly used in hospital inventory applications. Passive RFID tracking systems offer:

1. Economical Option

Passive RFID tags offer a lower price range than their active tag counterparts. The lower cost to integrate within hospital systems offers a more accessible option. The lower price tag comes from the tags not being built to endure multiple different environmental conditions, and they do not have an internal battery.

2. Lightweight

Passive RFID tracking tags are discreet and lightweight. Their compact size makes them ideal to attach to small items, and easy to attach to nearly anything.

3. Short Read Range

Passive tags have a shorter read range than active tags. A tag that reads in free air might have a range of 20 feet. But once you place the tag on an asset, that number drops to 6 inches or less.

A short read range is still a valuable asset for location tracking. One example is inventory management in your hospital. Recording tagged inventory takes a fraction of the time that would be spent manually tracking and counting stored items. Scanning RFID tags at a close range saves time and ensures you have accurate data for your assets.

Advantages of RFID tags over other methods of asset tracking

RFID integration in hospitals has been increasing in recent years, but not all hospital systems have made the switch over. Those who haven’t implemented RFID services in their buildings are most likely using barcode systems to track their assets. While barcodes are more efficient than manual tracking, RFID asset tracking system offers many advantages over barcoding. Including:

1. Simultaneous Tag Reading

You can read multiple RFID tags at once without a direct line of sight between the scanner and the tag. Simultaneous RFID tag reading cuts down the resources you spend on inventory management. What once took hours or even days can be done in a matter of minutes with RFID asset tracking.

2. Asset-Specific Data

Because the user can write the information contained within an RFID tag, unique equipment data can be stored directly on the asset via the tracker tag. Team members scan a tag and immediately learn any maintenance needs or schedules for that specific piece of equipment.

3. GPS and Condition Data

Asset tracking enables IT and other hospital staff to quickly locate vital equipment. RFID tracking systems also allow users to see asset condition data, aiding IT with the maintenance and management of those devices.

4. Asset Security

Every year, millions of dollars worth of hospital equipment are lost or stolen, causing unnecessary strain on hospital system budgets. But with RFID tracking tags, hospitals can boost asset security, prevent theft, and asset misplacement. RFID tracking systems can alert teams if hospital property is moved or taken from a building without authorization.

5. Enhance Productivity

RFID tracking tags provide instant access to all asset locations and data. Allowing hospitals to streamline their operations, and enhance their productivity at every level. RFID locator systems also increase productivity by lowering the time nurses spend searching for needed equipment and materials, and in one glance can show what equipment is being underutilized.


Tracking your hospital’s assets doesn’t have to be a logistical nightmare. With Altus’s real time location tracking tools and resources, you can effectively manage and organize your assets, regardless of the size or scope of your needs. Contact Altus today to learn more about your asset tracking options

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