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Your Medical Records: Soon to be Held for Ransom by a Chip-Implant Maker

PositiveID (PSID), the microchip implant company formerly known as VeriChip, has added a new wrinkle to its business model that is bound to be controversial: Its Health Link electronic medical record service* is being sold "on a paid subscription basis" in a pilot scheme targeted at ship, dock and maritime workers. Health Link provides access to a patient's online medical records. It can be used with an implanted microchip and linked to Microsoft (MSFT)'s HealthVault and Google (GOOG) Health.

The company's press release is slim on details, but it suggests that either ship workers' employers or the employees themselves will be charged a monthly fee to keep the service activated. In effect, PositiveID will hold workers' online health records to ransom: One assumes that if the monthly fee is not paid, access will not be granted. (Why else would anyone feel obligated to pay?) The company said:

Upon successful completion and review of the pilot program, PositiveID will offer its Health Link PHR to millions of seafarers and port workers per year, on a paid subscription basis.
Shipworkers are being targeted because they frequently travel far from their regular doctors:
When sailors become ill, they will visit a doctor at their next port of call. The doctor, typically, does not have access to the sailors' [pre-employment medical examinations], nor does the doctor know the patient's medical history, and will therefore conduct a thorough, costly examination prior to prescribing treatment. This expensive and burdensome repetition of medical procedures can be eliminated by using Health Link, which stores the sailors initial PEME and subsequent medical procedures.
You can easily imagine how some companies, eager to save money on healthcare, will insist on Health Link-linked chips for all their employees. If those savings became significant, other companies outside the shipping sector could follow suit... and you can fill in your own Orwellian nightmare from this point. Needless to say, most people will not want to be charged a monthly fee for occasional access to their own records, even if they could be persuaded to walk around with a microchip under their skin.

And there's a gaping hole in PositiveID's plan. It would make a lot more sense for shipping companies to upload their workers' pre-employment medical examinations to their own Web sites. Doctors anywhere in the world could access them with a password, perhaps the employees' unique coverage plan number. That would achieve the identical savings proposed by PositiveID but without the added cost of monthly subscriptions.

* This item has been corrected to make it clear that PositiveID denies its Health Link service includes microchipping employees. While the two products were once offered together, the company no longer markets them that way, PositiveID says. Related:

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