Pros and Cons of Inserting a Chip or Radio Frequency Identification Device Into an Individual We live in a world that is constantly becoming more and more dependent on the use of technology in quest for more accurate services and record keeping. We have a computer in every room and carry a hand held computer with us such as an internet connected mobile phone or tablet PC during any given time. In fact, such is the trust that we place in our electronic world that we think nothing of storing our data in a “cloud” online, or in social media networking sites where most of our vital information is easily accessible to unscrupulous third parties. Even with layer upon layer of secured socket layers supposedly protecting that information, our privacy is still violated. Our comfort factor in swiping credit cards or tapping cellular phones at certain POS shows that we think nothing these days of the personal information that it shared with others. Knowing all these factors, I cannot help but wonder as to why there is so much discussion over the pros and cons of implanting an RFID chip just under our skin when such technology is meant to insure that we will get ample and accurate medical care each time we pay a visit to the doctor or the emergency room. It creates an almost perfect healthcare system for us in that way.
Companies like VeriMed, who are tasked with the creation of these ID chips assure the patients that procedure for implanting the chip and the accompanying stored information pose no danger to the patient. In fact, listening to their explanation about the importance of the microchip implant is quite logical. VeriMed representatives (“Patient: For Patients, Caregivers and Loved Ones,” n.d.) assure the patients that it is :
… the first and only FDA-approved patient identification system that uses an implantable microchip. While that may sound like science fiction, its really down-to-earth, common sense when it comes to your life. About the size of a grain of rice and inserted just under your skin in the back of your right arm, each VeriMed microchip contains a unique identification number that emergency personnel may scan to immediately identify you and access your personal health information – facilitating appropriate treatment with less delay.
Such an argument actually makes sense when you think about it because in emergency situations wherein the patient is incapable of answering doctor and nurse questions, a mere scan of the chip will tell the doctors exactly what they need to know about their patient. With the chips ability to “speak” for the patient in a way, a patient is assured that their medical needs will be properly addressed.
People like Mark Levine, Chair of the Council of Ethical and Judicial Affairs, American Medical Association, Chicago, Illinois also agrees that there are benefits to be reaped from the emergence of RFID implants in patients. However, he sees the need to make the system more secure in order to make people more comfortable about the security of their personal information on the chip. Levine (2007) recognizes that such security is a two way street in such that:
Physicians do not bear sole responsibility for ensuring the safety of RFID devices. The FDA assists in protecting patients confidentiality by requiring that patient-specific information contained in RFID devices consist only of a unique identifier that can be used to access patients clinical records, which are stored in a separate, secure database. This two-step process of linking identification to an external data source greatly diminishes the likelihood that sensitive patient information will be disclosed to an unauthorized source.
Companies like VeriMed and their contemporaries also recognize the need to beef up security for the chip implant because of the advances in computer technology that might allow certain hand held scanners to inadvertently scan the chips and store the data. Not to mention that the use of such technology in elderly patients, who are most likely to benefit from the tech advancement, would require changing the mind of a person set in his ways and perhaps already distrustful of anything related to changes and technology as well. That is one reason that these RFID systems, although totally beneficial to the larger population, is not being implemented on a wide scale basis just as yet. According to information obtained by Michael Kanellos (2007) for Cnet news, “Only 222 medical patients in total have opted to get RFID chips from VeriChip implanted as of the end of 2006, according to documents filed by the company with the Securities and Exchange Commission…” Even with Pres. Obama himself backing the patient RFID movement the reality of the situation according to Kanellos (2007) is that, “When the company first began touting the technology nearly three years ago, it was criticized by civil libertarians, who saw the chips as a gateway to privacy erosion, and by religious consumers some of whom said that implantable chips were the mark of the beast.” And that is a product image that has yet to be changed 4 years later. The wave of sentiment in support of the RFID system may be turning, but not at a pace that could actually be called a modern day success.
At the end of this discussion, there is really one question that we should ask ourselves, “Is the technology truly beneficial to the larger population?” If yes, then a re-education of the elderly population on the benefits of the system is in order. As for the younger generation, implanting the chip upon birth would be the best idea since the person will grow up identifying the chip as part of his daily life and not question the benefits that he will come to see as a normal part of his healthcare.
References
Kanellos, M. (2007). Patients, doctors stay away from implantable RFID chips. Retrieved from http://news.cnet.com/2100-11746_3-6158701.html
Levine M, Adida B, Mandl K, Kohane I, Halamka J (2007) What Are the Benefits and Risks of Fitting Patients with Radiofrequency Identification Devices? PLoS Med 4(11): e322. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040322
VeriMed. (n.d.). Patients: For patients, cargivers, and loved ones. Retrieved from http://www.4verichip.com/for_patients.asp

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