FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Thursday, October 14, 2004

FDA Approves Implantable RFID

Yesterday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of an implantable radio frequency identification (RFID) chip for use in transmitting a patient's medical data to doctors and other healthcare providers. Healthcare facilities would have readers that would be able to receive and display the information.

The rice-grain-sized VeriChip, manufactured by Applied Digital Solutions, has been successfully used to identify pets and livestock; similar chips have been implanted into humans in other countries.

The chip can be implanted through a syringe in less than 20 minutes. In a medical context, RFID chips can be used to store a patient's blood type, food allergies, existing conditions, prior treatments, and any other information a doctor would need to know. The chips in their current form appear to be read-only.

This could prove to be a watershed moment in the history of RFID and "pervasive computing." On the one hand, RFID presents a host of opportunities for enhanced information management, not only for healthcare but for any situation where information needs to be exchanged. Patients with RFID chips could revolutionize the entire healthcare process; when a patient walks into a healthcare provider, not only could the provider be notified, but also the patient's insurance carrier, expediting the entire admissions process. In an extreme emergency, such rapid transfer of information could save lives.

On the other hand, information integrity and security become issues, and will reach a crisis level the first time a patient's implanted chip gets "hacked" or is read incorrectly. Additionally, standards need to be agreed upon; data on an RFID chip won't do anyone a bit of good if it can't be read.