AMA lists risks, rewards of human RFID implants

The American Medical Association (AMA) this week issued a report that gave mixed reviews on the use of implanted radio frequency identification (RFID) based technology to keep track of medical patients.

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The American Medical Association (AMA) this week issued a report that gave mixed reviews on the use of implanted radio frequency identification (RFID) based technology to keep track of medical patients.

The report concluded that while implanting the technology into humans could improve patient care, it also has yet to be proven safe or secure.

"These devices may present physical risks to the patient," the report said. "Though they are removable, their small size allows them to migrate under the skin, making them potentially difficult to extract."

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved use of the technology in humans in 2004.

The council also concluded that "RFID tags may cause electromagnetic interference, which may interfere with electrosurgical devices and defibrillators. Finally, it has not been determined whether RFID tags might affect the efficacy of pharmaceuticals."

The report also questioned whether medical professionals could guarantee that data stored in implanted RFID systems is safe from hidden readers.

At the same time, the report said that "RFID tags may promote the timely identification of patients and expedite access to their medical information, [and] can improve the continuity and coordination of care with resulting reduction in adverse drug events and other medical errors."

RFID can also make medical processes more efficient, possibly allowing quick access to diagnostic tests and other patient information, the report said.

The AMA recommended that use of the technology only be used with the approval of patients after they are warned of the potential problems. Additionally, doctors should use the same level of security with RFID devices as is used currently with medical records, the report said.

VeriChip, a maker of RFID chips that can be implanted, concluded that the report is an AMA "recommendation" of the technology.

An AMA spokeswoman declined to comment VeriChip's conclusion, describing the report as "very measured."

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