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Insurers Study Implanting RFID Chips in Patients

By davebirch posted Aug 15 2006 at 10:52 AM

[Dave Birch] Hackensack University Medical Center and Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey are recruiting volunteers to have an RFID device implanted under the skin. The chips, made by VeriChip Corporation, will contain a 16-digit identifying number that can be used to bring up medical and family contact information stored electronically in a database. The chips will be tested in patients with chronic conditions who are more likely to need care in hospital emergency rooms.

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I invited Verichip to the Forum this year but unfortunately they couldn't fit us in.  That was a shame, as I thought that it would be interesting to discuss developments at the intersection of medicine and digital identity.  There's are serious problems there that need tackling, and it's a space where digital identity concepts might really deliver important benefits. The Los Angeles Times is reporting that at least 1.5 million Americans are injured or killed every year by medication errors at a direct cost of billions of dollars.  This comes from a report from the Institute of Medicine in Washington, D.C., that also says that on average, one medication error per day was caused by confusion in drug names, wrong doses, failure to deliver drugs or a host of other problems. The study is a follow-up to a 1999 report from the institute, which is part of the National Academies, that outlined all medical errors and claimed that as many as 98,000 people were killed each year as a result of medical errors (7,000 of them as a result of medication errors). It ought to be possible to make quite a dent in these figures with some form of identity management system that knows the identities of the patients, the doctors, the medications (and so on) so that it can flash a light or sound a buzzer when the wrong medication turns up at the wrong bed. In the UK, we're already looking at using RFID in hospitals, but for tracking important things like equipment, not patients.  Staff are, apparently, looting the NHS of valuable medical and diagnostic equipment and then selling it on eBay. (Incidentally, I've already thought of a great plot for a thriller based on a murderer who hacks in to a hospital's identity management system to kill a business rival by entering the wrong medications in a database: moments after the medications have been administered, he hacks in and enters the correct medications.  It's the perfect crime!)

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