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AMA Issues Ethics Code for RFID Chip Implants
The American Medical Association recommends that physicians disclose uncertainties about the risks of implants, add extra layers of security to protect patient privacy and support ongoing research regarding the implantation of RFID devices in human beings.
From a privacy perspective, the AMA notes, RFID device security has not been fully established, so physicians "cannot assure patients that the personal information contained on RFID tags will be appropriately protected." Beyond just storing unique ID numbers on the tags, the association suggests the medical community also consider computer encryption and digital signatures to protect the data.
Moreover, the report recommends that RFID tags not be implanted or removed without the prior consent of patients, as per the AMA's policies regarding informed consent. More specifically, patients—or those acting as the legal guardians of patients—should be informed of the potential risks and benefits associated with RFID tags, as well as who will be granted access to the data contained on those tags, and the purposes for which this information will be used.
Shortly after the AMA released its report, VeriChip Corp., a maker of implantable RFID tags, applauded the association'srecommendations, saying they could help improve the acceptance of RFID implantable devices in the health-care industry. VeriChip manufactures the VeriMed system, which features a glass-encased passive RFID tag that can be injected into a patient's arm.
A hospital or medical staffer carrying a handheld interrogator can read a VeriChip's unique 16-digit identifying number, then link that patient's identity to such medical-record details as allergies, medications taken and blood type. The VeriMed system is the only human-implantable radio frequency transponder system cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the purpose of patient identification and health information.
VeriChip could not be reached by press time to comment on some of the AMA's concerns regarding RF interference, privacy and security. In the past, however, the company has claimed that when its glass-encased tag is inserted just under the skin, a small amount of scar tissue forms around it, preventing the chip from moving or migrating. In addition, VeriChip has stated that any patient data associated with the 16-digit number is stored in a secure online database, accessible only by authorized health-care workers.
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