How It Works
The RFID, or transponder, sends out a unique signal that allows the Reader to identify its location and identification. There are two types of transponders: passive and active. Passive transponders are smaller in size, do not require power, and have long-term operation capacity. Since they do not actively broadcast their signal, they require an external radio wave to establish contact and initiate data request. This is the type of transponder used in healthcare informatics. Active transponders require battery power to broadcast signals to the Reader, but transmissions are more reliable.
Operations and Breakdown
The microchip introduced for healthcare applications is a passive transponder (see Fig. 2). It is 11 millimeters long and about 1 millimeter in diameter, comparable to the size of grain of rice. It consists of a tissue-bonding cap made from a special plastic that covers a sealed glass capsule containing the RFID circuitry. The cap is designed to bond with human tissue and prevent the capsule from moving around once it has been implanted. The coils of the antenna turn the reader’s varying magnetic field into current that powers the chip. The coil is coupled to a capacitor to form a circuit that resonates at 134 KHz (Low Frequency). The chip modulates the amplitude of the current going through the antenna to produce a 128 bit signal, which translates into 16 decimal digits.
Biomedical engineers have been tailoring microchip technology to fit a wide range of medical applications. Positive ID has a division specifically for the healthcare sector, known as Health ID (see Fig. 3). Beyond patient identification and medical storage microchips, which are presently available for about $150, the company has two other systems: the Glucose-Sensing Microchip and the Rapid Virus Detection System. The Glucose-Sensing Microchip is an implantable device that measures glucose levels in the body in real time. Phase I studies, which involve tests of the signaling components of the technology, have been completed. In ongoing Phase II studies, researchers are working to enhance the glucose response in the presence of blood to provide more accurate readings. A Rapid Virus Detection System is also under development. The proposed non-invasive device would check a patient’s fluids for viruses within minutes, rather than hours. If viruses are present, it instantly breaks it down into main parts in order to identify and treat it .
As EMR merges with microchips and worldwide databases, globalized access will allow patients to receive proper care in hospitals at any location. However, some changes will have to take place to ensure the functionality of this relationship. First, medical offices will have to conform to worldwide standards. Second, a central implant location will have to be determined so that medical professionals will know where to look for the microchip (Left Hand Outpatient Procedure Shown in Fig. 4).
Use of this technology has ethical and technological limitations. From an ethical perspective, there are growing concerns over issues stemming from the inability to deactivate the device. Confidential information such as location, bank accounts, medical information and blood monitoring data might be easily transferred to anyone with a reader and the right set of passwords, with or without the user’s consent (see Fig. 5). In the healthcare sector, liability regulations would have to be revisited so that unauthorized access to sensitive patient data would not lead to mistrust and lawsuits against hospitals. As use of the microchip spreads to other industries, such as with parents tagging their children to protect against kidnapping, the question of whether children should have a vote in this process also becomes an ethical dilemma . Within that same realm, some believe we will reach a moment in time when choice will turn into a requirement. They predict that the popularity of the microchip will increase at such an exponential rate that government regulations will force the population to implant these devices in order to receive general healthcare benefits .
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