The FDA recently approved new RFID implants for humans—does this mean our medical records are about to go digital? Not really.
The FDA has approved the first-ever radio frequency identification (RFID) microchip for human use. VeriChip is described by its parent company, Applied Digital Solutions, as being about the size of a grain of rice. Via syringe, it is inserted under the skin just over the elbow, in a procedure the company describes as painless, requiring only local anesthetic and no stitches. VeriChip is then completely invisible to the naked eye. It lies dormant until someone passes one of Applied Digital’s scanners over the implanted chip, activating it by radio frequency energy. The VeriChip then emits a signal that transmits a unique code that can be used to access that patient’s medical information through a secure on-line database.
Critics are saying that VeriChip is not much different from existing, lower-tech patient alert systems, although they admit that VeriChip can provide faster information. Moreover, the equipment is prohibitively expensive (the chip will probably cost between $150 and $200, the scanner $650 and the service $9.95 a month) and the odds are low that many hospitals will have the necessary equipment anytime soon. Applied Solutions, however, is providing 200 scanners to some of the country’s top trauma centers as an incentive to begin chipping patients. Proponents argue this new technology could save lives, as in the case of patients who are unlikely or unable to present other forms of medical ID, such as those with Alzheimer’s disease.
Although the FDA approval is a landmark in human chipping, the FDA only has jurisdiction over the medical applications of VeriChip. Applied Digital is working to develop VeriChip for widespread use in security identification, to everything from granting access to restricted areas in nuclear power plants, to ensuring that only you can activate your cell phone. VeriChip is already being used for medical and security purposes in Mexico, as well as to identify V.I.P.s at nightclubs in Spain and Miami, so it seems that the era of human chipping is already upon us. Applied Digital asserts that VeriChip is a tamper-proof personal identification system, and that although the technology exists to duplicate chips, they are confident that a patient’s unique identification number and the information stored under that number are completely secure. The future of human chipping rests on the guarantee of that security.