Interview with Tommy Thompson
Former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services
CBS MarketWatch | July 11, 2005
Transcribed by Katherine Albrecht
"they can be implanted within your arm in seconds."
"… it will give an identification number… So it's very beneficial and it's going to be extremely helpful and it's a giant step forward to getting what we call an electronic medical record for all Americans."
"The growth of this company is going to be exponential, and going to be the type of thing that is going to help kickstart the modern technology."
"you can also do it to replace dog tags with the United States armed forces"
"...this is going to give that, really that impetus, to get the changing, the transformation which I call, that's badly needed in our healthcare system."
Host, Ed Crane: This is Ed Crane for MarketWatch. There is a very interesting and very controversial new technology coming into our lives -- an implantable radio frequency transmitting chip that can hold a variety of data, be it medical or financial.
Joining us to talk about this, Former Health and human Services secretary Tommy Thompson, who serves on the boards of both VeriChip, the maker of this device, and its parent company, Applied Digital. Thanks for joining us, Sir.
Thompson: Well, Ed, it's a pleasure to be on MarketWatch, and it is a pleasure to discuss new technology, especially in the healthcare field. I'm delighted to be on your program.
Host: Well, these chips have been used on animals for several years now, and just last week the FDA gave your company the green light to put these chips into humans.
Thompson: That's correct.
Host: How will these chips be marketed and how many folks do you think might be interested in having a chip in their arm?
Thompson: I think it's going to be very low at the beginning, but I think it's going to grow. These chips are extremely small, I don't know if you can see how small they are -- they can be implanted in your arm within seconds and it's completely voluntary so anyone who wants to can. And all it does is identifies you with a database that has your medical records.
And you know, Ed, that you can be traveling from one city to another city and if you have a stroke or an accident and you go into a hospital it takes too long of a period of time to get your medical records to that hospital where you're at and you can die in the meantime or you can suffer some degree of an allergic reaction to medicines that you can't take and all of this is because you don't have your records at the disposal of the doctor that's treating you.
And this will take care of that because it will give an identification number and all you have to do is run a wand over it and will then bring up your medical records. So it's very beneficial and it's going to be extremely helpful and it's a giant step forward to getting what we call an electronic medical record for all Americans.
Host: As recently as last Fall the FDA wrote in a letter to a competitor, Digital Angel, that it had concerns about adverse tissue reaction, transmission failure, security concerns and other issues. Have these all been addressed in your chip?
Thompson: Oh, they've all been addressed many times over and we continue to refine and perfect the product. But the product, as you know, has been given the preliminary approval by FDA. And all it does is gives a particular number, your personal number, which goes to a database, which has your medical record, which will instantaneously give that information to a doctor. There will be no encroachment on privacy, there won't be any adverse impact on the arm or tissue. And so it's really, very -- it's a failsafe kind of system.
Host: But playing devil's advocate for a moment, there are those who think the development of these chips is dangerous, that sensitive information might get into the wrong hands, that people could be tracked unknowingly by their boss, their spouse, et cetera. How do you answer that?
Thompson: Well, I say, you know, it's completely voluntary, number one, so you don't have to do it if you don't want to. But let's take a look at all the babies, you know, that we've seen over the years that have had people come in and walk out of the maternity ward with them. This security bracelet that would be placed upon a baby would prevent that.
You have elderly people now, especially with our society graying as rapidly as it is, people are going to be in a nursing home, they'll walk out of a nursing home because they have some kind of dementia, the security would prevent that from happening with the VeriChip bracelet.
And you also, of course, have animals all over the country that have chips in them that can determine, you know, when a dog or a cat or another animal has to go in for a physical or medical or medicine or any kinds of vaccines. So it is really a coming thing.
And it's one for security, you can also do it to replace dog tags with the United States armed forces. It has so many uses, and it's just like everything else, it's new technology, but it's advanced technology.
And if people would have said, you know, ten years ago, "What's an iPod?" nobody could have been able to explain it. Today everybody knows what an iPod is, and the same thing as with a chip in your arm that is placed there instantaneously, and is going to be able to help you secure your medical records which will be able to allow you to, if you have an accident or a serious illness, be able to get immediate care.
Host: From a business standpoint, where are you in terms of patent on this. Do you have direct competition from Digital Angel or others or is this your baby?
Thompson: No, this is our baby and we have patents on it, and that's what so nice about this small company - it's got tremendous potential. The growth of this company is going to be exponential, and going to be the type of thing that is going to help kickstart the modern technology.
The whole healthcare industry is way behind in technology and this is going to give that, really that impetus, to get the changing, the transformation which I call, that's badly needed in our healthcare system. 98,000 people died last year because of mistakes in hospitals, in clinics, by doctors and other providers. And the chip philosophy, the chip procedure and technology, can help to prevent a lot of those untimely deaths and a lot of those mistakes, and that's why I'm so excited about it.