Madison, Wis. – Tommy Thompson distinguished himself as the first Wisconsin governor elected to four consecutive terms, and he has now set a new precedent: the first Wisconsin governor to be tagged with radio frequency identification for digital access to his medical records.
Thompson, who also served as Secretary of Health and Human Services during President Bush’s first term, will have one of the security technology firm Applied Digital’s VeriChip tags injected into his arm sometime over the next few months. Thompson joined the board of directors of Applied Digital on July 8.
“We are all well aware of the need to enhance information technology in healthcare,” Thompson said in a statement. “It is my belief that VeriChip is an important and secure means of accessing medical records and other information.”
The chip could play a key role in healthcare as the industry moves toward electronic healthcare records.
Applied Digital began moving the chips into healthcare in October, when they were cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Hospitals can use the identification number to connect to a database of information such as the Global VeriChip survival registry, so even if they have no familiarity with the patient they can access vital information.
Scott Silverman, chief executive officer of Applied Digital, said that Thompson, who campaigned heavily for electronic medical records and healthcare technology both as governor and HHS secretary, is an ideal supporter for VeriChip. His support will be especially helpful as VeriChip looks to the future, trying to develop a wider database of healthcare information.
“For many years he has been a leader in quality of healthcare … and he sees this product as a useful device for a database in the future,” Silverman said.
VeriChip, a subsidiary of Applied Digital headquartered in Florida, estimates that almost 2,000 of its chips already have been installed in humans for healthcare or security purposes, with up to 50 of those being in the U.S.
The company manufactures passive RFID tags which store a unique 16-digit identification number that provides access to a user’s healthcare records. The tags are about the size of a grain of rice and in human users are injected into the fatty tissue of the tricep muscle.
Silverman said the firm began using implantable RFID technology as an advanced version of the ear tags used on livestock. The chips are implanted into cattle so farmers can determine which cattle are theirs. The chips also have been used to identify pets at animal shelters.
“They can scan the animal’s neck and it tells you who the owner is … it takes it from the visual line of sight into the electronic sight,” Silverman said.
Since its inception the program has been tested in hospitals in Mexico and Italy, and VeriChip estimates that of 7,000 chips sold worldwide, which includes the 2,000 that have been injected for healthcare or security reasons. The tags have also expanded into areas outside of healthcare, such as nightclubs in Barcelona and Glasgow that automatically charge a user’s bar tab.
The tags have encountered several objections. Some civil libertarians believe the technology can be abused by major corporations and government branches to track specific people’s actions, while some religious groups have raised objections.
Silverman said the company is not trying to force the chips onto any users, and any patient that does not want the implant doesn’t have to have it. He said the database of information Applied Digital maintains is highly secure – only accessible to the patient and the physicians – and they are engaged in discussions with health professionals to make sure all programs fit into society.