Patients told about VeriChip concern

Thirty North Jersey patients who have microchips containing their medical records imbedded in their skin have been told to consult their doctors after recent studies linked similar devices to cancer in some animals, spokesmen for the research project said Tuesday.

The patients, all affiliated with doctors at Hackensack University Medical Center, volunteered to test the emergency room efficacy of the VeriChip in a project sponsored by Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey.

The chip, the size of a grain of rice, can be scanned at the hospital to produce a patient’s medical history, if he or she is unable to communicate, and help physicians determine what treatments to use or avoid. About 2,000 people worldwide have the chip.

Although federal officials say the VeriChip appears to be safe for human use, Horizon has informed patients using it to talk to their doctors or the manufacturer if they have questions, said Tom Rubino, spokesman for the state’s largest health care insurer.

“We’ll just give people the information and let them make up their own minds,” Rubino said.

Several animal studies linked use of similar chips to malignant tumors in rats and mice, according to recent news reports.

A spokeswoman for the Food and Drug Administration, however, said the VeriChip appears to be safe for humans.

“Although we continue to monitor articles on the VeriChip, at this time there appears to be no credible cause for concern,” Karen Riley said in an e-mail Tuesday. “Many divisions within FDA continue to contribute to the assurance of device safety.”

Federal veterinary officials are “not aware of reports concerning microchips in animals, despite many pets and livestock that are tagged each year,” she said.

Until it hears from the FDA that the VeriChip is unsafe for patients, Hackensack will participate in the project, said Dr. Joseph Feldman, chairman of the emergency trauma department.

Rubino said Hackensack is the only hospital in New Jersey equipped to use the device, which was developed in part by a retired Montvale surgeon.

The project, begun in 2006, will continue for several years. VeriChip is particularly useful for chronically ill patients, such as diabetics, he said.

“You don’t want somebody going into the E.R. not able to communicate, and get medications that cause them to die,” Rubino said.