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FDA okays implanted chip for health care.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved an implantable computer chip that can pass along a patient's medical details to doctors, providing easy access to individual medical records.

Applied Digital Solutions, which manufactures VeriChips, radio frequency identification (RFID) microchips the size of a grain of rice, have already been used to identify lost pets and livestock. But this marks the first time the FDA has approved the use of the device in humans for medical purposes.

The microchip is inserted under the skin of the arm or hand with a syringe in a procedure that takes less than 20 minutes and leaves no visible marks. The dormant chip stores a code similar to a UPC code on products sold in retail stores. At a doctor's office, unique16-digit codes are stamped onto chips. Emergency-room personnel and ambulance crews equipped with handheld radio scanners would be able to read the number on the chip. When a scanner passes over a chip, its code reveals patient-specific information such as known allergies, blood type, and prior treatments. The chip does not contain any records, but with the identifying number, healthcare providers would be able to retrieve critical medical data stored in computers. The records could be easily updated.

In Mexico, more than 1,000s scannable chips have been implanted in patients. The chip's serial number pulls up the patients' blood type and other medical information. But the chips can be used for more than just medical purposes. Mexico's attorney general and nearly 200 people working in his office have been implanted with chips so they can access secure areas containing sensitive documents related to Mexico's drug cartels. Similarly, British company Surge IT Solutions recently signed an agreement with VeriChip to use the technology to control access to government facilities.

Club-goers in Barcelona, Spain, now use a similar chip like a smart card to speed their drink orders and payments. About 50 patrons of the Baja Beach Club in Barcelona have had the chip implanted so they wouldn't have to carry around identification and credit cards.

Applied Digital Solutions has tried to deflect privacy concerns by arguing that the implantation of chips is voluntary and the only records linked to a VeriChip will be those authorized by the person with the chip. But critics fear that eventually employers, government authorities, and others may dictate how the technology is used. For example, soldiers could be required by the government to have a chip implanted for military identification purposes.

Current scanners cannot read the passive chips from more than a few feet away, but design advances or the addition of a separate power source for the chip could expand those ranges and make possible the tracking of individuals with the chips.

Despite privacy fears and possible technical glitches, such microchips will be added to U.S. passports this year. E-passports, also dubbed "smart passports," promise to deter theft and forgeries, as well as speed up immigration checks at airports and borders. The State Department recently asked four technology companies to create proposals for introducing e-passports to the public. The agency will begin issuing them to citizens by spring, starting with people renewing or seeking new passports through the Los Angeles Passport Agency. A State Department spokesperson said the department plans to produce more than 1 million e-passports by the end of 2005 and by 2006 it expects all new passports to feature the microchips.

The RFID microchips store basic data, including the passport holder's name, date of birth, and place of birth. They hold 64 kilobytes of memory, enough room to store biometric data including digital fingerprints, photos, and iris scans. The chips are designed to last 10 years and incorporate digital signature and encryption technology. The State Department and the Department of Homeland Security plan to install facial recognition systems at immigration checkpoints in airports and elsewhere in about one year. Facial recognition scanners will automatically compare a person's face to the data about their face stored in the RFID chips, making sure they match.

The chips, which will be embedded in passport covers, can instantly broadcast their data to immigration officials with the right scanning equipment from a few feet away. This would allow officials to compare the information on the chip with the rest of the passport and the person carrying it.
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Title Annotation:Up front: news, trends & analysis; United States Food and Drug Administration
Author:Swartz, Nikki
Publication:Information Management Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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