Dutch researchers claim to have identified “potentially hazardous” effects on hospital equipment exposed to Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology.

The scientists released the results of a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association this week, claiming that RFID technology could interfere with critical medical equipment in hospitals.

RFID tags are increasingly used in almost every industry, and in the healthcare world have potential for identifying patients and tracking medical goods and supplies.

But in an expose that looks sure to reignite the hysterical debate on the effects of mobile phone electro magnetic radiation on health, this research is raising concerns about the use of the technology in hospitals.

The effects of electromagnetic interference (EMI) by two RFID systems – the active one operating at 125KHz (reader) and the passive operating at 868MHz (tag) – were assessed in the proximity of 41 medical devices from 22 different manufacturers at the University of Amsterdam.

Out of 123 tests, three per medical device, the RFID system induced 34 EMI incidents, of which 22 were classified as hazardous, 2 as significant, and 10 as light. In all cases, the median distance between the RFID reader and the medical device was 30cm.

“In a controlled nonclinical setting, RFID induced potentially hazardous incidents in medical devices,” the researchers said, citing such incidents and changes in breathing machines’ ventilation rates and syringe pumps ceasing to work.

However, equipment designed for use in the medical industry is regulated to guarantee against interference, so it remains to be seen whether these claims throw a spanner in the works for RFID, or whether they galvanise the relevant authorities to require medical equipment to be more resilient.