Science & Tech

Implantable chips bear promise, but privacy standards needed

1 min read

Writing in the July 28, 2005 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, John Halamka, M.D., chief information officer at BIDMC and Harvard Medical School and an emergency room physician, says the chip implanted in his arm would allow anyone with a handheld reader to scan his arm and obtain his 16-digit medical identifier. Any authorized health care worker can visit a secure Web site hosted by the chip manufacturer and retrieve information about his identity and that of his primary care physician, who could provide medical history details.

Halamka noted, however, that current technology and lack of specific privacy policy could enable spammers to track him in a manner similar to computer “spyware” that infests computers after visits to certain Internet sites. Also, each chip costs $200, and a reader $650, raising the question of whether it is a practical investment for caregivers.

Halamka says, “It is clear there are philosophical consequences to having a lifelong implanted identifier. Friends and associates have commented that I am now ‘marked’ and lost my anonymity.”

Although the system clearly needs to be perfected before being put into use, Halamka says, there may be positive uses for the technology in the future.