October 15, 2004
A small computer chip that can be implanted under the skin to give physicians instant access to a person's identity and medical records has now been approved by the government for use in medical care. Some believe the chip may be useful as a way to avoid medical errors in surgical wards and emergency rooms and to identify lost patients, including those with Alzheimer's disease.
The device, called a VeriChip and made by Applied Digital Solutions Inc. of Delray Beach, Florida, is read by a scanner and linked to a computer database to provide detailed medical information. Doctors or law enforcement personnel could scan patients and get a read out, not unlike the scans used in grocery stores. Similar devices have been used in Mexico and other countries and have long been used to track lost house pets in the U.S.
The chips, about the size of a grain of rice, will cost about $200 each. They are implanted under the skin of the upper arm using a syringe, usually with little discomfort. They are expected to become more widely available in the coming months and years.
Privacy advocates have raised concerns that the chips may be used for surveillance and tracking purposes, although others counter that the devices may be particularly useful for those with Alzheimer's or similar medical conditions. The VeriChip that was recently approved does not send out radio waves and so cannot be used to track the movements of an individual. Rather, if a lost person is found and cannot speak, the chip is scanned. It gives off an identification number that can be used to retrieve information about the individual from a database of subscribers. Identity and other vital information is retrieved from the computer database over the internet. More advanced chips that do track people are currently under development.
Additional information on the VeriChip can be obtained from the company's Web site.