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Insurers Study Implanting RFID Chips in Patients

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11/26/2006 01:31 AM
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Insurers Study Implanting RFID Chips in Patients
[link to www.eweek.com]

Insurers Study Implanting RFID Chips in Patients
By M.L. Baker, Ziff Davis Internet
July 19, 2006

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Hackensack University Medical Center and Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey are recruiting volunteers to have an RFID device implanted under the skin.

The chips, made by VeriChip Corporation, will contain a 16-digit identifying number that can be used to bring up medical and family contact information stored electronically in a database.

The chips will be tested in patients with chronic conditions who are more likely to need care in hospital emergency rooms.

In the two-year trial, the insurance company will pay about $200 for the chips to be implanted, plus $80 a month for a subscription fee, according to reports in the RFID Journal.

Horizon will then assess whether the devices lower health care costs by reducing duplicate lab tests, drug interactions or misdiagnoses.

Horizon will invite patients with conditions like diabetes and heart disease to participate and hopes to enroll about 300 volunteers.

eWEEK.com Special: The Future of Health Care IT

Though non-implanted devices, like bracelets or dog tags, could also provide the identifying numbers, chip proponents said that the implanted tags are less likely to be removed or damaged and that scanning for implants will take less time than looking for other means of identification.

Earlier this year, four hospitals in Puerto Rico announced plans to implant chips in patients with Alzheimer's Disease and other memory problems.

VeriChip has given several New Jersey hospitals—Beth Israel, Clara Maass, Columbus, Hackensack, Kimball, Newark, Ocean and PBI Regional—equipment to read the chips and access the company's database.

Across the country, about 100 hospitals have the appropriate scanning equipment, according to VeriChip.

The chip, about the size of a grain of rice, was approved by the FDA as a medical device in 2004.

But critics, including the authors of SpyChips, argue against the technology, citing everything from loss of privacy to signs of the apocalypse.

Once implanted, people cannot control who reads the identifying number from the chip, and critics worry the chips could be used to track people's movements and behavior.

PointerClick here to read about how RFID adoption has stalled in the pharmaceutical industry.

That ability is limited, however, because the chips can only be read from a distance of a few centimeters.

However, VeriChip itself has said that the chips could be used to control access to secure areas. And news reports state that the Department of Homeland Security has considered using the chips to track people.

According to the New Jersey study, patients will be able to approve information that is stored in the database that medical workers would access using the chip.

Critics also argue against the chips on technical grounds, saying that they could be useless if computers crash, too many radio signals confuse readers, and even that the chips are vulnerable to viruses.

However, some health IT advocates have come out strongly in favor of the chips. CIO of Harvard Medical School John Halamka had one implanted last year.

PointerCheck out eWEEK.com's Health Care Center for the latest news, views and analysis of technology's impact on health care.