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A Comparison: RFID vs. Barcode

RFID vs. Barcode: What’s the Difference?


Before we dive into the difference between an RFID label and a barcode, let’s define what both of these terms mean. 

A barcode encodes information into a visual pattern that can be read by a barcode scanner. Traditional barcodes contain a combination of printed, parallel bars and spaces of varying widths that represent letters or numbers. In this sense, barcodes can be considered a type of font. 

RFID, or radio-frequency identification, is a system that uses radio-frequency electromagnetic elds to transmit information from RFID tags to RFID readers. In the case of hospital pharmacies, microchips with antennas (RFID tags) can be attached to medications and programmed to include specific information, including contents, location, dosage information, expiration date, batch number, and more.

We have all experienced both of these types of labels in our everyday lives, perhaps without even realizing it. For example, you have seen a barcode on most grocery items that you’ve  purchased, and you may have encountered the QR code menus that have grown in popularity during COVID. Alternatively, you have likely interacted with RFID while shopping for clothes, which is an industry that uses RFID to track their inventory. Each tracking method has its own pros and cons and is better for certain types of use. 

Pros and Cons of Barcode

There are some obvious benefits to using barcodes, which include a lower upfront cost and the fact that it is more commonly used. But, are barcodes the best option for complex organizations like hospitals? They are specifically better used for more simple processes and are limited to scanning one at a time. Barcodes also disrupt certain workflows commonly used in a hospital, causing the need for workarounds and increasing the chance of inaccuracies.

Pros and Cons of RFID

With drugs moving at a high speed throughout hospitals, pharmacists need more visibility into their medications. RFID provides just that! Through the use of radio waves, a pharmacist or technician can scan multiple drugs at once, saving both time and operating costs. They also make the drugs more “intelligent.” RFID tags have the capacity to store and transmit more information at faster speeds than barcodes. RFID also has both read and write capabilities, which means that additional or updated information can be sent to the tags. This functionality also allows tags to be rewritten and reused for cost savings. As with every new technology, RFID is more expensive than barcodes and can have a large upfront investment, which may be a barrier to some.

Deeper Insight

Still undecided on which option is better for you? You can dive deeper into the differences between barcode and RFID by reading our white paper, created in association with Allegheny Health Network, in which their staff assesses the pros and cons of each method and discusses why they consider RFID to be the superior choice.

Download the whitepaper here.