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Hospital to test ID chip in patients

San Bernardino County Sun/Annette Wells | November 24 2005

A controversial device that can store security information and is the size of a grain of rice will make its way into the right arms of some 50 volunteering Arrowhead Regional Medical Center patients.

• More about the chip at www.verichipcorp.com

But, its purpose here won't be to provide bank account or e-mail passwords to the Colton hospital's staff.

The VeriMed microchip system will be used to store valuable information such as type of allergies and current medication so physicians can determine the safest treatment in the event someone is unconscious or unable to speak.

On Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors approved the hospital's request to take part in a pilot program with the microchip's maker, VeriChip Corporation, for four months.

The hospital will receive 50 of the devices and, on a voluntary basis, will implant them into its patients.

Dr. Dev GnanaDev, Arrowhead Regional medical director, said the program is part of the hospital's push to get appropriate care to those with chronic ailments such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

Arrowhead Regional's emergency room is often occupied by patients with a chronic disorder who can't effectively communicate their medical needs.

For example, GnanaDev said a diabetic might enter the hospital in a coma, but ER staff might not associate the two because they don't have access to medical records that quickly.

"In a situation like that, just a few more minutes might make a difference," he said.

With the Board's approval, Arrowhead Regional becomes the seventh hospital in the country and the first in California to agree to pilot the microchip.

Depending on the time it takes to get up and running, Arrowhead Regional's program could become just the second to go online, said John Procter, a spokesman for VeriChip Corporation.

Currently, Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey is the only hospital nationwide where the device is in use.

The microchip was approved by the Federal Food and Drug Administration last year for medical purposes. However, because it can be used to store other, more private information, Supervisor Gary Ovitt said he is opposed to the hospital's proposal to pilot it.

The 4th District supervisor said, philosophically, he's not opposed to implanting medical devices such as pacemakers. However, he didn't see the need for implanting a device in someone with identifying information.

"It's kind of a privacy issue," he said.

Bill Postmus, chairman of the board, also cast a dissenting vote.

GnanaDev said he understood Ovitt's position and those of privacy rights advocates.

"Our answer to that is that we're not identifying anyone; we're not tracking anyone; we're just giving them a number that links them to their medical records," he said.

VeriChip is a subdermal radio frequency microchip that, once inserted under the skin in a brief outpatient procedure, can not be seen by the human eye. Each chip contains a unique 16-digit verification number that is captured by passing a scanner over the insertion site.

The 16-digit number links to a database via encrypted Internet access. That stored information is then conveyed via the Internet to the requesting healthcare provider.

A similar device has been used as a location aid in pets for about 15 years.

For the pilot, Arrowhead Regional will receive 50 devices at no cost, as well as the scanning device.

If there is interest in more chips, the hospital would enter into a separate agreement with VeriChip Corporation to purchase them, pending approval from the Board of Supervisors.

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