RFID Technology in a Healthcare Setting
Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is an emerging technology that can be applied to a variety of disciplines to track inventory, manage personnel, identify data elements, as well as perform many other tasks or services. Any basic RFID system consists of a tag, a reader, and software which can be used to interact with the RFID device. This software filters, aggregates, and uses the RFID data to support that organization’s day to day functions. The premise is certainly not new technology, but rather a technological advancement of bar-coding. Recently, RFID technology has found its way into the healthcare setting, particularly in the field of medical records. Although in its infancy, RFID technology has a shown great potential to considerably reduce cost, increase patient safety, and improve the quality of care. Although it has many uses in a healthcare organization, this paper will focus on RFIDs and the medical record. The focus of this report will be on the uses, issues, and impacts of the human implantable RFID chip and the traditional RFID system.
The first reported RFID implant was in 1998 in Britain by scientist Kevin Warwick. As part of his experiment, Warwick used his implant to open doors, switch on lights, and cause a verbal response from a building. Just four years later in 2002, a company known as the VeriChip Corporation received preliminary approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration for a microchip device. After adhering to certain guidelines, the FDA granted approval in 2004 for the VeriChip Corporation to begin selling these bio-implantable microchips that stored personal health information. The release of the VeriChip was met with both advocacy and criticism. Some touted it as a medical milestone, while others immediately claimed that it was an invasion of privacy.
The main premise of the VeriChip was an implant that links to an online database containing all of the customer’s medical records, credit history, and social security ID. The company described the chip as “a tiny, passive microchip that links you to your personal health record. Your HealthLink is always with you and cannot be lost or stolen. About the size of a grain of rice, the microchip is inserted just under the skin and contains only a 16-digit identifier. The microchip itself does not contain any other data other than this unique electronic ID, nor does it contain any GPS tracking capabilities” (Edwards, 2009). The implantation costs would be from $150 to $250, according to a spokeswoman from the company.
In 2007, a study revealed that similar implantable devices had caused cancer in laboratory animals. This caused the gradual decline of the company, ultimately leading to its merger with Digital Angel Incorporated, where it was marketed as PositiveID. In 2010, the CEO of PositiveID announced that his company had stopped marketing the implantable microchip because of its decreasing popularity. The last mention of the implantable RFID was ‘VeriMed’, an identical device, although not currently marketed to the public but nonetheless still part of the company’s ongoing business. Currently, PositiveID is continuing to expand its business, centering on the non-implantable aspects of the RFID technology. Still, the company holds patents for an implantable glucose-detecting chip, hinting that they still dabble in that business amidst the controversy.
There were numerous potential problems and controversies associated with the VeriChip. Privacy, religious, and most of all, health concerns all led to the decline of the implantable RFID chip from the public’s eye. In terms of privacy, the arousing fear of ‘Big Brother’ supersedes any positive intentions brought on by the device. Critics advocate the potential of the device to be a precursor to the encroachment of privacy and the breakdown of civil liberties. Impending security...
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