parents with newborn in hospital

How HID Enables In-Hospital Infant Security

Is Infant Abduction From the Hospital a Real Concern?

Having a baby abducted from the hospital, or accidentally swapped at birth, would be a tragedy for any parent and a disaster for the healthcare facility that allowed this to occur. This is why hospitals have strict infant security protocols.

According to figures from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), in the US alone, 140 babies were stolen from healthcare facilities between 1964 and August 2022.

Thanks to the pioneering work of John Rabun, NCMEC’s founding COO, infant security has vastly improved and abduction from hospitals is now exceedingly rare.

How Have Hospital Infant Security Systems Improved in the Past 50 Years?

During his 28-year tenure at NCMEC, John Rabun provided on-site hospital assessment, consultation, training and abductor profiling to 70,000 medical and law enforcement professionals. He also wrote the book, For Healthcare Professionals: Guidelines on Prevention of and Response to Infant Abductions.

Thanks to Rabun, hospitals have introduced a range of infant security protocols, including:

  • Using electronic access controls to prevent unauthorized visitors from entering maternity and neonatal units
  • Provisioning anti-theft tags that alert staff if a baby is taken from an neonatal unit
  • Installing CCTV surveillance of entrances and exits to neonatal units
  • Requiring pediatric nurses to wear name tags and to clearly identify themselves to babies’ parents and guardians
  • Requesting photographic identification from parents or guardians before discharging babies to their care
  • Requiring all babies to be transported in bassinets within hospitals
  • Implementing electronic access controls to secure all external doors

How Can Infant Security Be Enhanced With RFID?

Today, the best hospitals ensure that babies are safeguarded by using active RFID technology that pairs them to their mothers to prevent separation and provides electronic monitoring via transmitters worn by the baby, coupled with sensors installed at each exit.

In the event that an infant’s anti-theft alarm is triggered, hospital staff are trained to immediately follow hospital Code Pink procedures to prevent the abductor from absconding with a newborn. These procedures include:

  • Alerting security personnel with a clear description of the infant’s age and last location and a physical description of the suspected abductor
  • Checking all patient rooms, hallways and staff areas
  • Implementing access controls to secure all external doors
  • Preventing anyone from leaving the facility until the Code Pink has been cleared
  • Once the baby has been safely recovered, conducting a thorough review of processes and procedures to improve infant security and prevent a recurrence at that healthcare facility

Can Babies Get Mixed Up While in the Hospital?

In addition to the risk of infant abduction from hospitals, nursing staff must also follow strict identification procedures to prevent babies from being mixed up.

A study undertaken for the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority estimated that almost two neonatal misidentification events take place each day, equating to one misidentified baby for every 217 live births.

What Are the Consequences of Infant Misidentification in Hospitals?

Voluntary anonymous reporting at one facility revealed that 11% of diagnosis, prevention and treatment events were caused by misidentification of babies.

Mixing up babies in neonatal intensive care units (NICU) can result in various consequences, ranging from a baby receiving breast milk from another mother, to blood samples from two babies sent to the lab with the same label, to the wrong twin being sent for an X-ray.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) reports that multiple births carry a higher risk of newborns being mixed up. However, parent-infant mismatches happen with unrelated babies too, as a Washington Post reporter discovered in 2016. The reporter’s newborn daughter was handed to another mother for two hours and fed formula milk, against her mother’s wishes, despite both babies wearing a 10-digit identification tag, which had completely different numbers.

What Are Hospitals Doing to Prevent Infant Misidentification?

The Joint Commission, a multinational enterprise that enables and empowers healthcare organizations around the world to build a foundation for quality and safety, has required all Joint Commission-accredited hospitals to use distinct identification methods for newborn babies since January 1, 2019.

The Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority’s report, Newborns Pose Unique Identification Challenges, advised a range of administrative and technological remedies to minimize mix-ups, including “standardizing practices for identification banding and using barcode technology.”

While barcodes meet the Joint Commission requirement for infant identification, radio frequency identification (RFID) provides the gold standard of infant security systems in hospitals.

Unlike barcodes, which require line of sight with a reader at close range, RFID tags offer the following advantages for hospital infant security systems:

  • RFID tags can be unobtrusively read from 1–10 meters away
  • Infant security tags uniquely identify babies without relying on visual recognition of a barcode, which can become obscured
  • RFID tags allow for additional patient data storage
  • RFID tags enable the real-time location of babies to be precisely monitored across a large healthcare facility
  • RFID tags can be enhanced with condition monitoring to check babies’ temperatures
  • RFID tags can be integrated with electronic access controls on maternity unit doors and external exits to support Code Pink procedures
newborns in hospital

Active RFID technology can provide greater protection for newborns than simple barcodes.

How HID’s RFID and RTLS Bring Enhanced Capabilities to Ensure Infant Security

HID’s infant abduction prevention system uses RFID technology to provide new mothers with the reassurance that their babies are uniquely identified and protected from mismatching or abduction. This helps hospitals to meet the Joint Commission requirement and saves sleep-deprived mothers from having to constantly confirm a 10-digit ID to nursing staff.

HID’s real-time location system (RTLS) solutions are accurate to within two meters and the software and hardware can be customized to each hospital’s requirements. The system combines active beacons, or passive RFID tags worn by babies and their caregivers, which communicate their location to multiple RFID readers and gateways stationed around the maternity unit and hospital. These readers feed location data to HID BluZone™ middleware, which enables hospitals to set up parameters and instant alerts if babies are taken outside of defined zones.

Regardless of the safety controls selected and implemented, parents and staff members must always understand the security and surveillance systems described herein are not a substitute for continuous and personal vigilance toward infant security.  — John Rabun, Senior Consultant, NCMEC, For Healthcare Professionals…Infant Abductions

TotGuard® from HID’s GuardRFID, protects against mother-baby mismatches and infant abductions from birth to hospital discharge.

At birth, babies are assigned an active RFID tag, that attaches to an umbilical clamp or is enclosed in a soft tamper-proof band worn on the baby’s ankle. Parents are assigned a wearable mother tag which is paired to the baby’s tag. The system complies with HL7 and LDAP protocols for electronic patient records.

Using HID’s proven RFID-based, real-time location system (RTLS) solutions, hospitals can provide a unique identifier for their tiniest patients that matches them to their parents and alerts staff if a child moves outside of the maternity or neonatal unit, without his or her approved caregiver.

RFID readers at exit doors, stairwells and elevators will alert staff if a baby tag is detected without the mother tag. To support Code Pink procedures, the system can also be configured to enable alerts, alarms and to secure doors to prevent an abductor from leaving the maternity unit.


While it is exceedingly rare for babies to be abducted from hospitals or swapped at birth, even a single incidence causes lasting harm to parents and their families. A combination of training, vigilance and RFID technology prevents our tiniest patients from being misidentified or abducted, while reassuring parents and helping hospitals to comply with international standards in the healthcare industry set forth by bodies just as the Joint Commission.

For a deeper dive into the power of HID’s RTLS solutions for infant safeguarding, explore our Infant Security System in Hospitals solution.

Josie Herbert is a freelance writer based in the UK.