Florida family gets medical-data chip implants
A family of three from Florida have become the first people to get microchips, slightly larger than a grain of rice, implanted in their arms. The chip emits a radio frequency signal that transmits an identification number, then can feed the number into an Web-based database maintained by the company that contains medical information supplied by the patient.
Saturday, May 11, 2002
BOCA RATON: Doctors implanted microchips containing a way to access medical information in the arms of three members of a Florida family on Friday, making them the first people to get what the manufacturer hopes will become a standard way of retrieving such data in the future.
But the scheme would need to be taken up enthusiastically and widely by hospitals and other medical bodies to work. And critics questioned whether it ever could become a useful or efficient way to obtain a patient's medical information.
Jeffrey Jacobs, 48, his wife Leslie Jacobs, 46, and their son Derek Jacobs, 14, volunteered to become the first to be implanted with the VeriChip, made by Palm Beach-based Applied Digital Solutions Inc. They underwent the brief procedure at a Boca Raton medical clinic.
The company said it envisioned that hospitals and emergency medical teams around the world would scan unconscious or uncommunicative patients for the chip, which would lead them to vital medical information about the patient.
When scanned by an external scanner, the implanted chip -- slightly larger than a grain of rice -- emits a radio frequency signal that transmits an identification number. Medical personnel, using a computer or hand-held device, then can feed the number into an Web-based database maintained by the company that contains medical information supplied by the patient.
The company says the tiny chips eventually could replace medical-alert bracelets and cards of the sort that alert emergency medical personnel to conditions such as allergies. So far, no institutions actually have the equipment to read the Jacobs' chips and access their medical information.
MedicAlert, a nonprofit emergency medical information service founded by a doctor 45 years ago and widely known for its medical alert bracelets and neck chains, issued a critical statement on the chips, saying it doubted that such technology could be effective and questioning the need for it.
'Whiz Bang' technology?
"While we applaud the focus on the need for medical identification services, we believe that the attention should move beyond the 'whiz bang technology' to the closer scrutiny of the VeriChip viability and infrastructure," MedicAlert said. "Viability of the VeriChip device necessitates an unrealistic, universal infrastructure for both the individual wearing the chip and medical professionals."
But officials at Applied Digital Solutions said they hope the device eventually may strike a chord with the elderly and their caregivers. The company said it hoped the device would become widely accepted by the medical community and placed into broad usage within four years.
"This product saves lives," Applied Digital Solutions President Scott Silverman told reporters.
"This will become standard protocol," Silverman said. "If you are found unconscious ... and taken to an emergency room, they certainly don't have access to your medical records. With VeriChip ... within milliseconds, they have access to who you are, where you are from, your pacemaker model, medications and entire medical records."
In Leslie Jacobs' case, the scanned chip leads to a warning in her medical information of a heart valve abnormality, while Derek Jacobs' data warns of allergies to common antibiotics.
Leslie Jacobs said that worries about possible unintended harm caused by emergency-room doctors ignorant of her husband's medical background led to the family's decision to have the chips implanted. Jeffrey Jacobs, a former dentist, has a fused spine, history of cancer and other serious medical problems.
A similar chip that is injected into animals such as pet cats has been marketed by the company for at least 15 years. This version of the chip has been marketed to help people positively identify lost animals.
For the moment, no hospitals or emergency medicine technicians in the area where the Jacobs live have agreed to accept scanners, which the company is offering free to hospitals in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, company spokesmen said.
They said 13 of 14 Palm Beach hospitals approached have offered verbal agreements but not formal approval yet. The implantation at a Boca Raton clinic took less than 10 seconds a patient and was described as like an injection.
The company said patients could expect to pay about $450 for the complete procedure. Access to the medical database, where patients enter information, runs $9.95 per month. So far only two medical offices in the United States offer the chip.