You arrive at the hospital in critical condition. The sound of voices, beeps and alarms surrounds you as you lie unconscious on the hospital bed. Nurses are running round checking your blood pressure, pulse and other vital signs to assess the extent of your injuries. But what don’t they know?
While you’re unable to communicate, medical professionals are racing against the clock to work out what happened to you and how to fix it.
Doctors need more data to save more lives
A doctor quickly shows up, but finds that you are unable to give any information about who you are, your medical history, or what happened to cause your current injuries. This starts a hunt for relevant information, while at the same time doing what it takes to keep you alive.
Your medical records are all spread around in different locations. Some are stored in your doctor’s office, some are stored in the pharmacy and some are stored in hospitals that have treated you in the past. It could take days or weeks to get answers to all the questions that a doctor needs to know, and in some cases the doctor may not be able to access that information at all.
Any history of heart failure or seizures, allergies, medication you’re taking, or pre-existing conditions you have, could cause problems with your treatment. At best these could delay treatment while tests are performed to rule things out. At worst there’s a risk of receiving a fatal treatment due to missing information.
Are health record implants a good idea?
We already chip our pets with contact information for the owner. These implants last for a life-time and, though most pets live shorter lives than their owners, a human health record chip should be able to last a lifetime with current technology.
As with all technology this would have both pros and cons.
Guaranteed access to all key information.
This is far and away the main advantage of human health record implants. The medical personnel at the hospital will get access to your information using a simple chip reader. Quick access to patients’ medical records will save lives.
The information will always be with you.
With the implant, you would not have to carry around ID or wear a medical alert bracelet detailing conditions such as diabetes. You would also never lose the information as it would be with you at all times without even thinking about it.
Safety risk: All your information would be stored in one location.
With everything about your health available in one place, the damage could be much greater if accessed. Possible problems include:
- Limitations with the insurance companies
- Identity theft
- Unwanted surveillance
- Illegal access and disclosure
Risk of weak legislation. To ensure patient confidentiality, the data would need role-based access control so that medical staff only have access to what they need to know. The more people who get access, the higher the risk of abuse. Even with strict legislation, nothing is foolproof. There would need to be strict rules about how the data can be used. Any breaches would need to be dealt with swiftly and strongly.
Risk of murder by proxy. Human beings make errors all the time. If a doctor accidentally deleted information about an allergy or a condition this could cause serious problems. A life-saving injection could prove deadly if medical staff were unaware, for example, that you had diabetes. This could also happen if hackers gained access to the data.
Getting it right first time
The world is becoming increasingly connected. More and more devices connect to each other and to the Internet. Soon we could be joining them. The first reported experiments with human chip implants were carried out in 1998 by the British scientist Kevin Warwick. With the potential to both enhance, and endanger, life there are some very important technical and ethical issues to address.
Technically, this is doable. Your medical records could be stored on a chip and available to be read with a hand-held scanner, so that medical personnel can quickly access vital information. Over time, more and more information about you could be tracked and stored. Eventually we could see implants that are connected to the Internet.
As the ethical barriers are gradually removed, implants could be used for anything, from storing your medical data to opening door locks, turning lights on, or paying for your morning coffee. But with more information being stored, access becomes more attractive, not only for your doctor but for employers, insurance companies, the government and even criminals.
Whatever your feelings on this, health record implants seem likely to be with us sooner rather than later. The technology is already partly available and who knows what might be possible just a few years from now.