When Harvard Medical School and CareGroup CIO Dr. John Halamka agreed to place his medical information on an RFID chip and have it implanted it in his arm, he triggered an instant global spotlight on this unusual form of portable electronic medical record. The decision, made in December 2004 and disclosed in early 2005, captured worldwide attention from places a diverse as Fox News, the BBC and the New England Journal of Medicine (where Halamka contributed a commentary ).
As recently as 2007, a debate over chip privacy and safety versus having critical medical data instantly at hand (as it were) was featured in a PLoS Medicine exchange. In it, Halamka asserted, “Implantation of RFID devices is one tool, appropriate for some patients based on their personal analysis of risks and benefits, that can empower patients by serving as a source of identity and a link to a personal health record when the patient cannot otherwise communicate.”
Two years later, Halamka’s chip remains under his skin but he’s ready to turn over the idea that he’s a trendsetter to the undertaker. The technology “has been adopted by no one,” Halamka told me at a meeting on Patient-Centered Computing sponsored by Partners HealthCare’s Center on Information Technology Leadership. “As a technology it’s dead. Use the network, use the cloud to store your personal health records. Or in a pinch, use a USB drive. But the implanted RFID chip is not as a society where we’re going.”
A spokeswoman for Delray Beach, FL-based VeriChip Corp., maker of the FDA-approved device, responded, “We are currently supporting our existing partners, members and healthcare facilities.” The company, which sells implantable chips for security and other purposes, has been through ownership and management changes and is “determining our
strategic direction,” the spokeswoman said.