Research Article: What Are the Benefits and Risks of Fitting Patients with Radiofrequency Identification Devices?

Date Published: November 27, 2007

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Mark Levine, Ben Adida, Kenneth Mandl, Isaac Kohane, John Halamka

Abstract: Background to the DebateIn 2004, the United States Food and Drug Administration approved a radiofrequency identification (RFID) device that is implanted under the skin of the upper arm of patients and that stores the patient’s medical identifier. When a scanner is passed over the device, the identifier is displayed on the screen of an RFID reader. An authorized health professional can then use the identifier to access the patient’s clinical information, which is stored in a separate, secure database. Such RFID devices may have many medical benefits—such as expediting identification of patients and retrieval of their medical records. But critics of the technology have raised several concerns, including the risk of the patient’s identifying information being used for nonmedical purposes.

Partial Text: Radiofrequency identification devices are tiny, potentially implantable appliances that can store clinical information that is able to be captured remotely. Their use has the potential to make significant advances in the effectiveness, efficiency, and safety of medical care by improving patient identification, promoting patient safety, and expediting access to patients’ medical records. Yet, as with all new technologies, their adoption must be tempered by attention to potential unintended consequences.

The American Medical Association (AMA) recently issued a report on “Radio Frequency ID Devices in Humans,” which concluded that these small implantable devices “may help to identify patients, thereby improving the safety and efficiency of patient care” [1]. The AMA recommends that during the informed consent process for RFID implantation, patients should be told of “medical uncertainties associated with these devices.” However, health policy makers, doctors, and the public must understand that RFID devices, unlike other forms of medical technology, have an impact upon patients’ privacy that extends far beyond the medical arena. With an implanted RFID device, individuals can be tracked surreptitiously by anyone using a generic RFID reader, available for just a few hundred dollars. The informed consent process needs to present this risk clearly, and the AMA should amend its report to specifically address this unusual risk.

In December of 2004, I was implanted with a VeriChip RFID device.



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