The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday approved an implantable computer chip that can pass a patient's medical details to doctors, thereby speeding care. Radio frequency microchips the size of a grain of rice have already been used to identify wayward pets and livestock. And nearly 200 people working in Mexico's attorney general's office have been implanted with chips to access secure areas containing sensitive documents. Delray Beach, Fla.-based Applied Digital Solutions in July asked the FDA for approval to use the implantable VeriChip for medical uses in the United States. The agency had 60 days to reply to the "de novo" application.
It's the first time the FDA has approved the use of the device, though in Mexico more than 1,000 scannable chips have been implanted in patients. The chip's serial number pulls up the patients's blood type and other medical information. The chips could be particularly useful for patients with chronic diseases like HIV, hepatitis, diabetes, and others, health officials say, by making their treatment histories readily accessible. With the pinch of a syringe, the microchip is inserted under the skin in a procedure that takes less than 20 minutes and requires no stitches. Silently and invisibly, the dormant chip stores a code--similar to the identifying UPC code on products sold in retail stores--that releases patient-specific information when a scanner passes over the chip. At the doctor's office or hospital those codes stamped onto chips, once scanned, would reveal such information as a patient's allergies and prior treatments.
The FDA in October 2002 said that the agency would regulate health care applications possibly through VeriChip. Meanwhile, the chip has been used for a number of security-related tasks as well as for pure whimsy: Club hoppers in Barcelona, Spain, now use the microchip much like a smart card to speed drink orders and payment. (AP)