Implantable Chip Holds Medical History Details

Medical records always at hand with
an implantable RFID chip

John Halamka, MD, chief information officer at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and Harvard Medical School and an emergency room physician, says the the radio frequency identification (RFID) chip implanted in his upper right arm would allow anyone with a handheld reader to scan his arm and obtain his 16-digit medical identifier.

The chip, which consists of several small components encased in an unbreakable glass capsule, was implanted in the physician’s arm in December 2004 with only a local anaesthetic. Any authorised health care worker can visit a secure web site hosted by the chip manufacturer and retrieve information about his identity, and that of his primary care physician, who could provide medical history details.

Recalling his experience as an emergency medicine resident who could spend hours trying to determine the identity of John or Jane Doe patient, Halamka believes properly encrypted technology could prove to be a boon in helping to avoid unwanted medical interventions.

“For patients with Alzheimer’s disease who wander away from home, an identifier that enables caregivers to identify non-verbal or confused patients and determine their health care preferences could be very desirable,” he says.

But a number of significant legal, ethical and technological hurdles need to be overcome first. “Current technology and lack of specific privacy policy could enable spammers to track him in a manner similar to computer ‘spyware’ that infests computers after visits to certain Internet sites,” he noted.

“It is clear there are philosophical consequences to having a lifelong implanted identifier. Friends and associates have commented that I am now ‘marked’ and lost my anonymity. Several colleagues find the notice of a device implanted under the skins to be dehumanising,” he said.; Source: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center