Friday, Oct 15, 2004
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By Diedtra HendersonAP
WASHINGTON, OCT. 14. Medical milestone or privacy invasion? A tiny computer chip approved on Wednesday for implantation in a patient's arm can speed vital information about a patient's medical history to doctors and hospitals. But critics warn that it could open new ways to imperil the confidentiality of medical records.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said that Applied Digital Solutions of Florida could market VeriChip, about the size of a grain of rice, for medical purposes.
With the pinch of a syringe, it is inserted under the skin in a procedure that takes less than 20 minutes and leaves no stitches. Invisibly the dormant chip stores a code that releases patient-specific information when a scanner passes over it. Think bar code. The identifier, emblazoned on a food item, brings up its name and price on the cashier's screen. At the doctor's office the codes stamped onto chips, once scanned, would reveal such information as a patient's allergies and prior treatments, speeding care.
The microchips have already been implanted in a million pets. But their possible dual use for tracking people's movements as well as speeding delivery of their medical information to emergency rooms has raised alarm. ``If privacy protections aren't built in at the outset, there could be harmful consequences for patients,'' said a policy analyst at the Health Privacy Project. In order to protect patient privacy, the devices should reveal only vital medical information, such as blood type and allergic reactions, needed for health care workers to do their jobs, she said.
An information technology guru at the Detroit Medical Centre, however, sees the benefits of the devices and will lobby for his centre's inclusion in a VeriChip pilot programme. ``One of the big problems in health care has been the medical records situation. So much of it is still on paper,'' said David Ellis, the centre's chief futurist and co-founder of the Michigan Electronic Medical Records Initiative.
Meanwhile, the chip has been used for pure whimsy: Club hoppers in Barcelona, Spain, now use the microchip to enter a VIP area and, through links to a different database, speed payment much like a smartcard.
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