BOCA RATON, Fla. - A Florida family Friday became the first to be implanted with computer chips that researchers hope will someday become an easy way to provide emergency room staffers with patients' medical information.
Jeff and Leslie Jacobs, along with their 14-year-old son, Derek, had the tiny chips implanted in their arms. Each chip is about the size of a grain of rice, and insertion takes about a minute under local anesthesia.
The VeriChip was designed by Palm Beach-based Applied Digital Solutions Inc. It is similar to chips implanted in pets to identify them if they are lost.
The family wanted the implants in case of future medical emergencies.
"We're doing this as a security for us, because we've worked so hard to save my husband's life," said Leslie Jacobs, 46.
Her 48-year-old husband has suffered through cancer, a car crash, a degenerative spinal condition, chronic eye disease and abdominal operations. His injuries have forced him to quit his dental practice.
"It's been really easy and I feel a lot better that I have it," he said after the implant.
The chips used by the Jacobs family contain only telephone numbers and information about previous medications. The data can be read by a hand-held computer and printed out.
The Food and Drug Administration said in April that it would not regulate the implant as long as it contains no medical data. Company officials said they were free to proceed because the implant contains identification numbers that correspond to personal medical information in a separate database.
The FDA did not consider the implant to be a medical device, company officials said. An FDA spokeswoman in Miami did not immediately return a phone call. The FDA had said regulation would be needed if medical records were stored to guard against storage of outdated records.
Company officials hope to eventually include more extensive information. The company says it would be particularly valuable for those who suffer from Alzheimer's disease or others with difficulty providing medical information on their own.
VeriChip is expected to sell for about $200. A scanner used to read information contained in the chip would cost between $1,000 and $3,000.
The chip, which could also be used as a security tool, has stirred debate over its potential use as a "Big Brother" device to track people or invade the privacy of their homes or workplaces.
Mr. Jacobs and his family brush aside those arguments. Anyone can be tracked through the Internet and e-mail, credit cards and cellular phones, they say.