In health care, RFID is not a product. No, really, it's not. Instead, think of it as enabling technology.

In wholesale distribution, retail or manufacturing you have enterprise-wide vertical applications where one might buy an RFID system to track merchandise or parts. In hospitals there are multiple RFID applications with specialized requirements. Because of these specialized requirements, hospitals buy the application first, and RFID second.

These applications include hospital patient flow, infant security systems, and departmental information systems for the OR and ED. Vendors in each of these product categories have integrated RFID capabilities into their products; depending on the age of their product, they may have developed their own indoor tracking system. At this point, I think it is impossible to buy a product from each category and have them all work with the same RFID system.

The health care market is adopting RFID with pilot projects using different technologies. At some point, the market's going to wake up and see unnecessary duplication that must be replaced by an enterprise solution. This "complication" won't stop any early innovators from adopting RFID, but it must be resolved before the early majority of the market will "cross the chasm" and buy RFID.

In some markets, RFID capability will become a lock-out spec long before RFID sees major market adoption. The challenges for both vendors and buyers are considerable; those that execute well will be the ones to reap competitive advantages.