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The Difference between RFID and RTLS Tracking and the Benefits of Each

Blog Post
4 minutes

Within the healthcare system, asset tracking has become an essential component of both day-to-day and big-picture operations. RTLS and RFID are buzzwords often used interchangeably within healthcare. While they provide similar solutions, they’re distinct and serve unique purposes.

In this article, we explore the differences between RFID and RTLS tracking and the benefits of each.

What is RFID Tracking?

Radio Frequency Identification tracking tags work by using radio frequency to transmit data, track equipment, and communicate everything with healthcare workers and IT. Signals bounce between two or more devices, like a tag and a reader, to determine the location of objects or individuals.

An RFID tag allows you to track assets using custom data that you choose to write onto the tag. This gives you the customization and flexibility required in a fast-paced healthcare setting. Team members read data through RFID software, which empowers your team to keep track of tagged items across your facility.

What is RTLS Tracking?

Real-Time Location Services are another popular method of asset tracking among hospitals and healthcare facilities. They can include various tags and badges, platforms, network appliances, as well as servers, and end-user software.

RTLS, as the name denotes, provides location tracking in real-time. Like RFID tracking, RTLS is ideal for use in hospitals and healthcare settings where every second counts.

Hospitals can use RTLS tags to track assets across multiple campuses


Both RFID and RTLS asset tracking allow users to locate their equipment and assets, but each technology delivers data in different ways. Below we highlight some of the main differences between the two asset tracking methods.

1. Consistency

An RFID chip sends radio signals to a reader every few seconds, while an RTLS tag operates on Bluetooth and/or WiFi capabilities. The mode of communication determines the consistency of the signal each tag emits.

Some RTLS companies use Bluetooth Low Energy sensor technology to tag and track all hospital assets at once, providing an around-the-clock signal that gives real-time location information. While RFID tags offer nearly real-time data, the signal isn’t constant like in RTLS tags.

2. Accuracy

RTLS provides certainty-based location services with clinical-grade visibility. By combining software products, RTLS healthcare technology compensates for weaknesses that exist when a single tracking software or hardware is used –– like in RFID tracking.

RFID tracking uses only radio frequencies to locate tags. As a result, locations are estimated according to a tag’s location in proximity to an RFID antenna. Most RFID chips use triangulation software to give an approximate location of the tagged asset.

Additionally, RFID signals require a direct line of sight. If an asset is behind a wall, or if the tag is hidden under a towel or blanket, the transmitter might not be able to read the signal. This can create distorted readings and incorrect data for your team.

3. Read Range

RTLS typically has a further read range than RFID tracking. Because RTLS technology doesn’t require a clear line of sight or radio signal reads like RFID tracking, hospitals can use RTLS tags to track assets across multiple campuses.

While RFID tags don’t boast the long-range reads of RTLS tracking, the tech is still useful within healthcare systems, as we’ll see below.

4. Application

Both RFID and RTLS tracking bring unique strengths to the table within a hospital setting.

RFID badges are ideal for maintaining a secure facility with touchless floor access. They allow personnel to access specific wings and halls, keeping track of their location as they move about the hospital.

Additionally, RFID tracking is ideal for hospital inventory applications. Mobile readers allow staff to take a quick and accurate count of inventory, saving time and eliminating input errors.

RTLS tracking is suited for high-value, time-sensitive tracking needs. For example, RTLS helps with contact tracing in hospitals and healthcare systems. The technologies help locate and isolate infection risks in real-time, offering immediate and precise location data.

Benefits of RFID Tracking

1. Monitor Movements

RFID gives you data regarding the movements of your tags within a large area, giving an approximate location of the tagged product or person. This tracking method is helpful when hospitals want to monitor the movements of their staff.

2. Discreet Tagging

RFID tags come in many sizes, with the smallest comparable to a grain of rice. The wide range of tag sizes allows hospitals to tag and track nearly everything –– from large pieces of equipment to identification badges to small medical devices.

3. Security Applications

RFID tracking is commonly used for hospital system security. The tracking tags are ideal for granting access to medical professionals and support staff who require entrance into restricted areas.

4. Inventory Management

RFID mobile readers make this tech the common choice for hospital inventory management. Mobile RFID tag readers are cost-effective and allow staff to take inventory quickly and accurately with handheld hardware.

Benefits of RTLS Asset Tracking

1. Unbeatable Precision

RTLS tracking is highly precise. The asset tracking technology combines complementary software solutions to deliver clinical-grade precision that healthcare systems require. RTLS asset tracking results are safe, reliable, fast, and exact, making it an ideal tool for organizations with valuable assets to keep track of.

2. Tags Need Not Be Visible

RTLS technology doesn’t require a direct line of sight to accurately acquire location data, so even if an asset is behind a wall, under boxes, or even if the tag is blocked by other devices or assets, location services won’t be disrupted.

3. Track Valuable Metrics

In addition to pinpointing the exact location of an item –– or individual, RTLS tracking allows the user to measure key metrics that empower you to run your hospital more efficiently and effectively.

For example, an RTLS healthcare tracking system can collect data on tags passing through specific areas of your facility, giving you a bird’s eye view of your carts, equipment, or other assets. Additionally, RTLS tracking gives you real-time data on the location of your assets, cutting down on wasted time spent searching for equipment.

4. Reduce Waste

One of the most common problems hospital staff face is missing or misplaced equipment. One study found that nurses spend a collective 6000 hours every month finding lost equipment. RTLS tracking technologies nearly eliminate this waste, allowing hospitals to utilize their time and financial resources how they best see fit.

Nurses collectively spend 6000 hours every month finding lost equipment