RFID chips promise to revamp medicine
By Eva A. Sylwester
Aug. 1, 2005 at 4:39PM
No longer a science-fiction fantasy, radio frequency identification chips are on the market and available for implantation in the human body.
While society begins to weigh the medical benefits of immediately being able to identify a person from the signals emitted by his or her RFID chip against the costs in personal privacy, a doctor has tested the device on himself and chronicled his experience in the July 28 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
"I felt it important that somebody try this new technology," Dr. John Halamka told United Press International. Halamka is chief information officer at the CareGroup Healthcare System and Harvard Medical School, and an emergency physician at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
Now, when someone runs a RFID scanner over the back of Halamka's right arm, a 16-digit number -- his medical identifier -- appears on the scanner's screen. When typed into a secure computer system, the number provides information about Halamka's identity and the name of the primary-care physician to contact for his medical history.
The technology was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in November 2004. Halamka got his RFID chip implanted Dec. 22.
"It was a five-minute office procedure," he said.
An orthopedist colleague at Beth Israel Deaconess loaded the rice-grain-sized chip into a syringe about the size of a knitting needle and injected it into Halamka's arm, numbed with a local anesthetic.
The risks of infection and pain that arise whenever the skin is punctured apply to the implantation of RFID chips as well, Halamka said, although he experienced neither. He did not name any other possible side effects from the chips.
There is no risk of an RFID chip moving inside the body, because muscle tissue holds it in place. There also is no risk of allergic reaction to the chip, because it is encased in an unreactive medical-grade glass coating.
Halamka said he does not feel his chip, even when using his arm muscles in strenuous activities such as mountain climbing.
The type of chip in Halamka's arm works by emitting a signal when activated by a scanner that comes within six inches of the device.
Sanjay Sarma, associate professor of mechanical engineering and co-founder of the Auto-ID Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the necessary radio emissions are at a very, very low power and are not dangerous to the human body.
"The power simply causes infinitesimal and imperceptible warming in the neighboring tissue," Sarma told UPI in an e-mail. "This is what happens every time we use a cell phone, for example. The amount of exposure is likely to be extremely limited. In any case, the (Federal Communications Commission) regulates the power, so that the exposure is well within safe limits."
Halamka estimated about 1,000 people have received the chips, including about 200 in Mexico whose chips contain security-clearance information. The chips are similar to those currently operating in millions of livestock animals, although they operate at a slightly different frequency.
"The technology's been around about a decade," Halamka said. "The application in humans is new."
The industry-standard location for RFID chips is in the back of the right arm between the elbow and the shoulder, Halamka said. At Beth Israel Deaconess, every unresponsive patient brought into the hospital gets his or her arm scanned. The hospital gets one or two unresponsive patients per day, although he said it has not yet treated a tagged unresponsive patient. He said so far only a few hospitals, most of them university or teaching hospitals, possess RFID scanning equipment; according to his report, readers cost $650 and chips cost $200, with variable implantation costs.
The introduction of RFID technology is highly compatible with the recent push to put medical records on the Internet. At this point, Halamka said, about 25 percent of U.S. medical records are available online, although legislation by the Bush administration proposes to bring that figure to 100 percent within 10 years.
One drawback of the technology is the medical identifiers are not encrypted and therefore their information could be intercepted by unauthorized scanners. For example, a scanner at a retail store could note that a customer bought a fountain pen and, on his next visit to the store, alert him via an electronic bulletin board that ink for his pen was on sale.
Halamka acknowledged this could prove troubling to some people.
"To me, privacy is a function of an individual's right to confidentiality," Halamka said. "Some people may not want it disclosed that they were at a certain location or bought a certain product."
Bill Scannell, a privacy activist in Washington, compared medical identifier-containing RFID chips to the tattooing of Holocaust victims at concentration camps.
"I think the early to mid-part of the 20th century showed us that giving people numbers and attaching them to their bodies ... is kind of a bad idea," Scannell told UPI.
He said although he respects the right of individuals to accept RFID chips if they choose, he is concerned about the possibility of mandatory RFID implantation in the future.
"The information that is on that chip is freely available to anyone," Scannell said. "It's like playing Marco Polo in the pool. ... You can have information taken from you without your knowledge."
Others question the necessity of the chips.
"I am not a huge fan of RFID tags inside humans except in extreme scenarios like in defense or in hospitals," Sarma wrote. "Even in those cases, a bracelet might do the trick. I say this not because of any ill effects of RFID tags, but simply because there might be simpler, non-invasive ways to do this. For example, a dog tag or tattooed social security number provide similar benefits."
Halamka acknowledged that RFID chips may not be for everyone, due to individual philosophical and ethical choices, but he said there are numerous uses for the chips. He said that as an emergency-medicine resident, caring for patients who were unable to communicate and carried no identification was a difficult, anxiety-inducing experience.
RFID chips would relieve doctors of having to spend hours searching for the identities of unknown patients and the confusion over unknown patients' treatment preferences, he said. This would make RFID chips ideal for people who engage in extreme sports and do not carry their wallets, or for people with medical conditions that make them unable to communicate -- although Halamka said the latter situation poses ethical dilemmas involving the issue of patient consent.
RFID chips can help doctors avoid errors with medications and medical procedures -- currently a major problem in hospitals.
"There's an opportunity for us to close the loop and really reduce errors," Halamka said. For instance, RFID chips could determine whether penicillin-containing medications were in the same room as a penicillin-allergic patient and alert medical staff to the problem.
"The advantage is knowing who people are and knowing where they are and making good decisions based on that," Halamka said.
Nooooo..........it will NEVER become mandatory, that is just too far fetched.......nope, it will never happen
It frightens me that someone, anyone, thinks this is a good idea....
The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
A couple of months ago(in a thread) I predicted the big push would be with\for medical "reasons"
If there is a natural disaster, you would want the doctors to be able to access your medical records
you could be unconcious and unable to tell them your allergies or special needs
Your life could depend on this LITTLE chip being harmlessly implanted in your arm............heh
I won't start worrying until they say that,
in order to improve reception, the chip
should be implanted in your forehead.
I didn't say you should "worry" about it, I just said(sarcastically)It was in the process of happening
I could see how some people might conclude that any limb containing one of these devices should be hacked off its accompanying body to retard the growth of the practice of implantation. I could also see how, in some dystopian future, the devices could be used for good as much as for ill to separate sheep from men.
Can we buy and sell without it still?
I actually have no problem if they had a medical/tracking chip that I would have in my children. The day they turn 18 they come out. I am one of those parents who is constantly paranoid some nutjob will take one of my kids.
Actually I think that will come about as an option.
Theives will begin to cut off hands to steal, but you can't cut off a head and pass that off.
It is being put in the back of the right arm, I guess they will put the"readers" on the side of doorways in buildings
1 And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.
2 And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority.
3 And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast.
4 And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him? 5 And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies: and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months.
6 And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven.
7 And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.
8 And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him,
whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
9 If any man have an ear, let him hear.
10 He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.
11 And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.
12 And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.
13 And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men,
14 And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live.
15 And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.
16 And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:
17 And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
18 Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.
Now now folks, lets settle down. They are doing this for the good of the people, nothing more! :)
Yeah, and it will cut down on crime and lower taxes
I think this is the route they will use to chip the population. Especially if they ever recover a kidnapped kid with it.
Push the chips on people for the children. And then 10 years down the road make it a Felony with a 20 year sentance for anyone to remove anyone's.
Don't buy into the fear. Keep this thing out of your kids. Your best intentions will fuck them later as adults. An RFID in a removable bracelet is about as far as you should go.