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RFID Tracking at Conferences

May 5, 2011
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Intrusion or no big deal?

A recent trend at industry conferences is the embedding of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags into conference badges.

As a HIMSS press release last October explained, the tags can help exhibitors understand attendee interests and product preferences “through accurate, Web-based reporting and analytics by capturing visitors and traffic pattern data with meaningful demographics, such as job function, geography and organization."

Most attendees are probably unaware of the tracking. Yet some attendees have expressed resentment about having their movements tracked, and as with health information exchanges, questions are being raised about whether conference organizers should change the tracking from opt-out to opt-in participation. When HIMSS announced the RFID tracking last fall, the HIStalk blogger responded that “being tracked as nothing more than a roving sales prospect is just insulting.”

Another blogger, Westby G. Fisher, M.D., a cardiologist at NorthShore University HealthSystem outside of Chicago, recently expressed concerns about the use of RFID tags at the American College of Cardiology’s ACC.11 and i2 Summit Scientific Conferences. “Now more than ever, I believe the use of our personal data should be on the basis of an ‘opt-in’ policy rather than an ‘opt-out’ policy. Requiring someone to check a box to NOT have something is a pernicious way to elicit approval for an activity,” he wrote.

Comments on Fisher’s blog seemed all over the map in their opinions about whether having their movements in a conference exhibit hall tracked and the data gathered by a third-party vendor raises privacy concerns. I’d be interested to hear if Healthcare Informatics readers have any strong opinions about this trend.

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