Potential uses of radiofrequency identification tags in surgery

Miniaturization of chips, increases in computer speed and the development of broad-based computer networks have contributed to the increasing momentum of RFID. Technology advocates tout this as an extraordinary opportunity to move information science forward. Others have placed RFID in the same category as the “mark of the devil”. I do not think so, but you will have to decide for yourself. Some privacy groups are concerned about the ability to draw personal inferences from digitally collected information stored in large databases that are accessible to undeterminable future “data miners”. In addition, the ability of undesirable people scanning a chip in your body or your purchases poses additional concerns. These concerns about RFID are real but the technology itself can be balanced against potential benefits. Certainly not all RFID systems have to be networked or contain personal information. In order to move this idea forward I would like to discuss three opportunities that RFID could make your next surgery a bit safer without revealing any personal information.

I can not believe we do not have a…

I did not know that they (should have) recalled that device…

Furthermore, some devices require more training than others. Would patients not want to be certain that their surgeon/team was appropriately trained? That could be determined easily as well. One of the features that make RFID different than bar coding is the fact that each chip is unique. If the device was to fail in the operating room, and if it was actively registered online, the device failure could be reported instantaneously. Maybe all of those particular devices are bad or maybe only the ones made on a certain day. Facts like these could assist manufacturers in recalling the right devices instead of all of them.

I am sorry, but there is still a sponge in your body…

There is much work to be done to make any of these pursuits of perfection possible. While the cost of chips has come down dramatically, information systems to track these types of things still need development. Standards for medical use will need to be set so that patient safety rather than corporate profit will be the priority in the end.

Author :Steven D. Schwaitzberg, M.D., FACS, Visiting Associate Professor of Surgery, Harvard Medical School, Chief of Surgery, Cambridge Health Alliance


RFID Chips – Are They The Devils Mark? – Reflections by J. Schenon blog

Foster KR, Jaeger J, (2008) Ethical implications of implantable radiofrequency identification (RFID) tags in humans, Am J Bioeth, 8(8):44-8

Nagy P, George I, Bernstein W, Caban J, Klein R, Mezrich R, Park A, (2006) Radio frequency identification systems technology in the surgical setting, Surg Innov, 13(1):61-7

Schwaitzberg SD, (2006) The emergence of radiofrequency identification tags: applications in surgery, Surg Endosc, 20(8):1315-9.


7101, avenue du Parc 

Montréal (Québec) H3N 1X9


  • Facebook
  • Twitter