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A tiny implanted computer chip that can give health care providers quick access to a patient's medical records received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in October. The VeriChip, which is about the size of a grain of rice, contains a patient-ID number that corresponds to medical records in a database. Similar chips are currently in use to identify pets and livestock.


In a simple, painless procedure, the chip is implanted subcutaneously in the upper arm. When activated, it emits radio waves and a handheld scanner retrieves the ID number.


Proponents say the chips can give care providers vital medical information about patients who can't communicate. Privacy advocates worry that unauthorized people could place scanners anywhere to track the whereabouts of people with chips. They're also concerned about the privacy and security of the medical information database. The FDA previously ruled that it won't regulate financial, security, or other uses of the chips.


The chip is produced and marketed by Applied Digital Solutions, Inc., in Delray Beach, Fla.

Figure. Illustration... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Illustrations by Michael Trinsey