Radio-frequency identification (RFID) as a form of EHR   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.””

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) refers to small electronic devices that consist of a small chip and an antenna. They are capable of carrying quite a bit of information. To retrieve the information an RFID device must be scanned much like a barcode. However, the device can be scanned independent of position relative to the scanner and may be read up to 20 feet away.

I’ve always felt that RFID devices would make a great way to maintain a patient’s electronic health record (EHR). Important information like allergies, medical conditions and current medications would be a valuable resource for healthcare professionals during the hospital admission process. Approximately 28% of a healthcare professional’s time is spent looking for information. This is especially true in emergency departments where patients may not even be able to answer questions secondary to their condition. RFID devices can be small, easily taking up no more room than a credit card.

Of course these devices aren’t without issues. Securing the information on the RFID would prove difficult, but may be possible by eliminating a large portion of the patient’s identification such as social security number, account numbers or insurance information. Keeping the information up to date would also be difficult as the data would require input from several sources. A centralized database to house the information would be best, but that is an entirely different post.

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