If someone proposed injecting a computer chip in your arm and said it could save your life, would you do it? As Orwellian as it sounds, VeriChip is betting this will be a billion-dollar business. The firm's parent company, Applied Digital Solutions, won FDA approval last year for what it bills as the "world's first human implantable microchip." A radio-frequency identification (RFID) transponder the size of a grain of rice, the VeriChip contains a 16-digit personal ID number that can be scanned like a bar code, providing health-care workers access to your medical records online. That could be lifesaving in an emergency, cutting the likelihood of medical errors for accident victims, Alzheimer's patients--anyone who can't communicate or lacks ID. So far, only about 60 Americans have been chipped, mainly Applied Digital employees in Delray Beach, Fla. But the company says 58 hospitals are adopting the technology, a number it expects will expand to 200 by 2007.
Dr. John Halamka, chief information officer of Harvard Medical School, got chipped last year and says he hasn't experienced negative side effects. He acknowledges that colleagues find the chip dehumanizing. Security experts are worried that the system can be hacked. And there are concerns that chips could one day be used to monitor the movement of those with implants. And the chip isn't cheap: the suggested retail price is $200 and isn't covered by insurance.
Applied also sees an opportunity in the security business. It has shipped 7,000 chips worldwide and figures about 2,000 have been implanted. Applied CEO Scott Silverman hopes to sell chips to the Pentagon, the CIA and the FBI--feeding into X-Files-type fears of biochipped government agents lording over the citizenry. A novel use: Baja Beach Club, a European nightclub chain, is offering "VipChip membership" to speed patrons through the ropes in Barcelona and Rotterdam. Some 430 clubgoers have signed on--at $1,300 apiece.