Paper from Cambridge Health Alliance's Chief of Surgery discusses microchips: in surgery, operating rooms, and beyond

Cambridge 21 August 2006Steven Schwaitzberg, Chief of Surgery at Cambridge Health Alliance, released a paper titled "The Emergence of Radiofrequency Identification Tags (RFID): Applications in Surgery", published in the latest issue of Surgical Endoscopy. In the piece, Dr. Schwaitzberg discusses the implications of using electronic data storage devices in the medical field, a controversial topic that could revolutionize health care.


Radiofrequency identification tags, commonly referred to as RFID, smart tags, or smart chips, store data on silicon microchips. Originally developed for British military use during World War II, this technology has recently gained popularity in the consumer realm via pass-and-go payment devices at gas stations, toll booths, and more. RFID technology - once used to save soldiers' lives on the battlefield - could soon help save civilians' lives in the operating room.

In his paper, Steven Schwaitzberg examines the many roles RFID could play in medicine. Unique tags could identify medical products, confirm patients' identities, and store pertinent medical information or entire medical records. Surgeons could electronically account for every item on an operating table, virtually eliminating the chance of equipment being errantly left behind during a procedure. In addition to improving inventory management and providing patients' medical records, RFID could communicate real-time information directly to and from the operating room. Hospitals, for example, would be instantaneously informed of product recalls - virtually eliminating any chance that a defective device be used.

"With so many possibilities, it will be our duty as a surgical community to understand the nature of the applications and opportunities for this technology, not to mention the social and ethical implications for its use", writes Dr. Schwaitzberg.

The FDA recently cleared Applied Digital Solutions to market its VeriChip RFID tags for implantation in the upper arms of hospitalized patients, and such devices are already in use by Mexican government officials.

"This technology could provide large amounts of data that not only carry the promise of improving health care, but also may impact personal aspects of our daily lives", stated Dr. Schwaitzberg. "Each of us must become familiar with the risks and benefits of RFID use."

Dr. Schwaitzberg's paper appears in the August 2006 - Number 8 issue of the peer-reviewed journal, Surgical Endoscopy. Surgical Endoscopy represents the surgical aspects of interventional endoscopy, ultrasound, and other techniques in the fields of gastro-enterology, obstetrics, gynaecology, and urology, as well as gastro-enterologic, thoracic, traumatic, orthopaedic, and paediatric surgery. It is a worldwide forum for the description and discussion of various aspects of interventional endoscopy and ultrasound as integral elements of surgical practice. Interventional endoscopy and ultrasound have permitted decisive advances in surgery. The Journal serves the international surgical community for the transfer of information relating to practice, theory, and research in the various medical and surgical disciplines.

Dr. Schwaitzberg serves as Chief of Surgery at Cambridge Health Alliance and as an adjunct professor at Tufts University and as Visiting Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School. In his 19 years as a surgeon, Dr. Schwaitzberg has focused on device development and evaluation, clinical and laboratory prevention of intra-abdominal adhesions, skill acquisition in minimally invasive surgery, clinical evaluation of antibiotics, and retrospective clinical reviews. With a clinical background in critical care and infectious diseases and an acute interest in technology, Dr. Schwaitzberg is well versed in the intersection of surgery and technology, and is currently using an innovative minimally invasive surgery to treat heartburn known as Stretta. He created and directed the Surgeon in the Digital Age Series for the Society of American Gastrointestinal Endoscopic Surgeons, which was honoured with a Computerworld Smithsonian Laureate award in 2001.

Cambridge Health Alliance is a regional health care system with three hospitals and more than twenty primary care practices in Cambridge, Somerville, and Boston's metro-North communities. As a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School, Cambridge Health Alliance offers medical residency/training programmes and undergraduate learning experiences in hospital and community settings. Cambridge Health Alliance also includes the Cambridge Public Health Department, CHA Physician's Organization (CHAPO), and Network Health, a managed Medicaid plan.

For Dr. Schwaitzberg's paper you can visit the Surgical Endoscopy reference at Springer.

Leslie Versweyveld

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