The members of the Jacobs family don’t consider themselves unusual. In fact, up until earlier this year, they considered themselves average, as did their neighbors in Florida. That changed last May when, at the urging of their 14-year-old son Derek, they became the first family to all have the grain-size VeriChip implanted in their right arm. Derek’s idea was that the VeriChip, which was developed by Palm Beach, Fla.-based Applied Digital Solutions and keeps track of a user’s important personal information, might someday save the life of his father, Jeffrey, who survived cancer, a car crash and spinal injuries. Jeffrey’s chip tracks his medical history, just in case something else happens; Derek and his mother, Leslie, chipped themselves simply because they wanted to.
Implant technology is not a new idea. Pet lovers have been using chips to find Fido and Fluffy since the mid-1990s, and scientists use them to track the movement and life span of endangered wildlife. But now implant technology is moving into the human realm for a variety of security purposes (recovering kidnapped children, for example) as well as medical ones.
The chip the Jacobs were implanted with in a Boca Raton, Fla., medical office last spring is actually a radio frequency identification device that transmits a unique verification number when triggered with a handheld or walkthrough scanner. This verification number can be used to access a secure storage site hosted by Applied Digital Solutions either by telephone or Internet. In Jeffrey’s case, the number unlocks his medical history. The Jacobs family can access the storage site through the Internet and update any information associated with their chip numbers.
To date, about a dozen people have been implanted with the VeriChip, including chip creator and Applied Digital Solutions President Scott Silverman. “I wanted to get chipped to demonstrate to the world my confidence in the success of this technology,” says Silverman. “The use of technology to enhance the quality of someone’s life has been proven. When people came out with pacemakers, [society] first thought that was crazy.”
The Food and Drug Administration has said it does not consider the VeriChip to be a medical device, and therefore would not regulate it. (That could change if the device is used “to assist in the diagnosis or treatment of injury or illness,” according to the FDA.) For now, without government regulation, hospitals are reluctant to own and use VeriChip’s equipment. Leslie Jacobs says she is not aware of any nearby hospitals that own the scanning equipment needed to retrieve the chip verification number. However, many companies are trying to figure out if the technology can be used to introduce powerful drugs into a patient’s system over long periods of time, which is less harmful to the body’s organs.
Leslie, for one, is a believer. “A few years ago, I would not have thought about using something like this, but we believe this technology is the wave of the future,” she says.