HIPAA and implantable technologies take center stage in the latest installment of D.S. Factor’s “Relentless”. A battle is brewing between medical ethics and corporate greed with both sides of the issue digging in for a long fight.

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Closing her eyelids in an attempt to relax, Caroline found her thoughts drifting back to her most recent run-in with Dr. Theodore Thompson at MA1.  Serious doubts had cropped up in her mind over the past few months regarding initial implementation findings and testing relating to their latest project, the “Medical Access Retrieval Quest” program, or “MARQ” as most of the team jokingly referred to it within the walls of the complex. 

In the mid-nineties, the United States Congress passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA as its acronym came to be known.  The bill was signed into law in 1996 by President Clinton and served to ensure that access to health insurance was available to U.S. workers and their families should they change or even lose their jobs.   

Among many other provisions, HIPAA set the groundwork for privacy rules which would become effective in April of 2003.  The 2003 portion of the law impacted both health care providers as well as the patients they served, regulating the use and disclosure of protected health information, or PHI.  Protected Health Information covered a wide myriad of actions and information, including any information on a person’s health status, specific care being provided, payment for said healthcare…virtually anything pertaining to a person’s medical record. From an administrative viewpoint, the privacy rules complicated tenfold the requirements put on healthcare providers.

The Marq project being developed by MA1 tapped into solving the administration issues felt by healthcare providers, as well as making patient appointments more efficient and PHI more convenient and secure, resulting in a decreased cost to providers and patients.  Much of the project utilized radio frequency identification (RFID), a technology pioneered in the 1930’s for espionage by the Soviets and employed later in that decade by the Allies during World War II to differentiate Allied airplanes from those of the enemy. 

The passive tracking device literally exploded with possibilities and applications later in the century.  Among them, lost pets were reunited with their grateful owners, shoplifting attempts at the Wal-Marts and Targets of the world were thwarted, automobile thefts decreased dramatically (embedded devices within the keys would only allow a car to start if the proper RFID code was present) – even library books were no longer illegally and permanently checked out. 

With the passage of HIPAA, coupled with the successful implantation of microchip RFID devices into animals and ongoing testing with humans, MA1 was in the unique position of revolutionizing the healthcare delivery system.   

Caroline’s team used the RFID system as a springboard to develop an implantable, biologically pure device capable of storing an individual’s complete medical history record, with an additional terabyte of space available for non-medical related information the patient may wish to upload.  Uploads to the chip could include anything from a person’s military record, an airline itinerary, even their favorite Spotify playlist.  Using a secure internet site, a participant in the program could transfer to their chip directly from any computer in the world nearly any data they chose to send.   

Security of the system is where Caroline and Dr. Thompson philosophically parted ways.  Thompson was motivated by the idea of mass acceptance of MARQ, transforming the technology into the latest fad or chic accessory for an always hungry commercial audience to devour.  Caroline felt that it should be used only with individuals who fell into the highest medical risk demographic, including those patients afflicted with Alzheimer’s, heart related issues, COVID-19 or other medical conditions that would benefit from healthcare providers having instant access to their medical information.  Harnessing the ability to locate a patient experiencing dementia symptoms or unable to communicate with those providing assistance would save lives as well, Caroline insisted. 

Thompson had iterated repeatedly in staff meetings that economically, the product would be a virtual financial goldmine for MA1, and being expensive initially to produce, mass acceptance would be the most expedient way to recover the company’s initial investment.  Caroline favored a safer, more phased in approach to the masses, knowing that privacy in the world today was of paramount importance to everyone, specifically noting the worldwide backlash that came from draconian methods of handling the Covid-19 vaccination rollouts and the scandals it produced. 

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