The US Food and Drug Administration this week approved the first implantable radiofrequency identification microchip for human use, elevating RFID from a tool for supply chain management into an enabling technology for improving healthcare delivery to patients.
The approval comes after a period of scrutiny at the FDA, started in July, in which the agency has looked into any privacy and patient confidentiality issues that could arise from the technology.
One implanted in a patient's skin, the RFID tag would allow doctors to scan patients and, for example, ensure that they receive the proper treatment. The unique ID could be linked to a number of data points including a patient's complete medical history and any history of allergies, drug interactions, etc.
VeriChip technology is already widely used for the tagging of pets, and to track livestock, so is well established as an 'in vivo' technology. The Italian Ministry of Health kicked off a six-month trial of the chips for hospitals in April.
The 11 millimetre RFID chips could save lives and possibly limit injuries from errors in medical treatments, claims VeriChip, the company behind the development. VeriChip - a subsidiary of Applied Digital Solutions - revealed details of the approval last week during a conference call with investors.
VeriChip believes that the technology could also be used to monitor other implantable devices, such as a pacemaker. It will not hold any data itself apart from a 16 digit number, but this could be linked to a database containing any amount of patient information.
The company plans to market the chip for $125 (not including implantation). It is anticipated that the chip would be inserted in the rear part of the triceps of the right arm under the skin
Meanwhile, the technology is finding some surprising applications outside of the healthcare arena. For example, in Mexico staff in the attorney general's office have received implanted chips from VeriChip that are used to control access to rooms and documents related to the country's efforts to combat drug cartels.
VeriChip is also working on an implant that will contain Global Positioning System (GPS) capabilities. Such a device would allow an individual with a scanner to pinpoint someone's position anywhere around the world.