Connected medical devices: should I plug in?

Team Discussion

Multiple authors

‘Microchipping’ or ‘biohacking’ – the practice of implanting an electronic chip in the human body – continues to make the news. I’m intrigued by this trend, which feels like it should belong in an episode of Star Trek, or a sci-fi film. ‘Biohacking’ emphasises that the ‘Internet of Everything’ truly exists; the integrated network of machines seamlessly connected to people, as well as other machines.

What are we to make of this Internet of everything, which includes us too? Sweden seems to be the home of early adoption. Implanted chips were first used in Sweden in 2015 and now there are an estimated 3,000 Swedish with an embedded chip. At ‘chip’ events held in Stockholm, you can pay $100 to have a microchip inserted under your skin, between your thumb and forefinger, using a syringe. The microchips are the size of a rice grain and use near field communications (NFC). This method is similar to the one used for contactless payment and access systems in buildings. One of the leading innovators in this technology space, Hannes Sjöblad, brings things down to earth. Hannes explains that: “You can have a wearable device that monitors you; or you can log what you eat and measure your behaviour on your phone; or have a microchip implanted in your hand and let it take care of that for you” (from an article by journalist, Emma Barlow published in Audi Magazine, Autumn 2018).

connected medical devices apple watch and iphone

After all, health-tracking medical devices already exist: pacemakers, implanted heart monitors and implants which measure blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. It is their use in health-monitoring for the general population that makes implanted chips interesting. A chip with sophisticated biomarkers able to monitor your health or predict if something is likely to go wrong, is something to get excited about!

So, perhaps I should embrace my hidden cyborg?

Chips used to access a meeting room at work or to pay by mobile phone must have felt equally alien to those who first heard the suggestion, but it is now run-of-the-mill. The thought that you would never need to root around to find your keys, passport, or better still, that you could automatically check your temperature and blood pressure without thinking, does have its appeal. So, plug me in to this new connected world… but perhaps not just yet.

Stella is the Chair of the Board of Trustees at Team, a non-executive director position focussed on driving best practice in employee ownership governance, in line with Team’s ethos. Before taking on the role of Chair of the Trustee Board, Stella managed a number of projects within Team and headed up the project management group. Stella is also a non-executive director of an early-stage healthcare company and an honorary lecturer at The Institute of Biotechnology at the University of Cambridge.

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