Jul 17, 2007—The American Medical Association (AMA) has officially established a code of ethics designed to protect patients receiving RFID implants. The recommendations focus on safeguarding a patient's privacy and health, and are the result of an evaluation by the AMA's Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs (CEJA) regarding the medical and ethical implications of RFID chips in humans, as well as a follow-up report recently released. The latter discusses the possible advantages and specific privacy and ethical issues of usingRFID-enabled implantations for clinical purposes.
Entitled "Radio Frequency ID Devices in Humans," the report is presented by Robert M. Sade, M.D., who chairs the CEJA. It acknowledges that RFID's use in health care "represents another promising development in information technology, but also raises important ethical, legal and social issues." The report adds, "Specifically, the use of RFID labeling in humans for medical purposes may improve patient safety, but also may pose some physical risks, compromise patient privacy, or present other social hazards."
The AMA's report identifies three specific recommendations: The informed-consent process must include disclosure of medical uncertainties associated with these devices; physicians should strive to protect patients' privacy by storing confidential information only on RFID devices utilizing informational security similar to that required for medical records; and physicians should support research into the safety and efficacy of RFID devices implanted in human beings, and examine the role of doctors regarding the nonmedical uses of the technology.
The recommendations now serve as ethical guidelines for physicians and caregivers, explains Steven Stack, M.D., a member of the AMA's board of trustees, and are officially part of the AMA's medical ethics code. While not law, the AMA's code of ethics has long served as a standard of conduct defining the essentials of honorable physician behavior.
"The AMA is the largest professional organization representing the interest of physicians and patients in the U.S.," Stack says, "and the AMA's code of ethics is the most widely accepted guidance for physicians' professional, ethical practices." In fact, he adds, courts and governments often use the AMA's ethics codes as guidelines.
Central to the AMA's recommendations is that RFID implantable devices still need to be researched. The report indicates such implants may present physical risks to patients, because the devices can migrate under the skin and become difficult to extract. It goes on to say the risks may be minimized "by constructing RFID tags from materials that permit surrounding tissue to encase the device." Furthermore, the document cautions that RFIDtags may electromagnetically interfere with electrosurgical devices (medical tools that use electrical currents for cauterization during surgery) and defibrillators, and that more research needs to be done regarding whether RFID tags might also affect the efficacy of pharmaceuticals.