Smart cards for healthcare are well established in France, Germany and Taiwan, but they have received minimal attention in the United States. Benefits of a smartcard include faster registration of patients, absolute healthcare identity, portability of medical records and potential data support for existing electronic health records.

History of the use of smartcards for healthcare outside the U.S.

The history of large scale deployment of health cards in the healthcare sector goes back to the late eighties/early nineties, when France and Germany each started national programs on the nationwide introduction of health insurance cards. Since then, other nations, such as Slovenia and Belgium, have also introduced health cards, and various projects have been started all over Europe over the last 10 years or so. The objective of the European Commission’s efforts is not the harmonization of the health systems but the achieving more cooperation and more convergence among the health systems and the finding answers to the open questions concerning cross border healthcare according to increasing patient’s mobility in Europe. France has more than 45 million people using smartcards for healthcare and almost all German citizens have and use one of these cards.

Defining the Technology

When used in healthcare, smart cards contain medical data for the patient they represent. Rather than a paper chart or an electronic health record stored and transported over the Internet, this wallet-sized card contains a computer chip loaded with pertinent medical information. The chip interacts with a computer system to make stored health information available.

Smartcards in Healthcare in the United States

Rather than actually carrying healthcare information, smartcards in the US have been used for identity authentication. The smartcards could be used to manage billing to various health-insurance companies for all services received by the public. In Wyoming, the state uses a smartcard called the Health Passport Card, right in the grocery store, to check how pregnant and breast-feeding women spend their allowance for nutritional supplements (on food rather than on diapers, for example). Several states including Texas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Indiana and Georgia have run pilot project using smartcard to verify the identity of Medicaid recipients. New Jersey is currently looking at developing a pilot project.

Using a smartcard with biometric technology creates two-factor authentications which results in absolute healthcare identity. Absolute healthcare identification reduces duplicate records, prevents billing errors and increases overall patient safety. We hope the move toward using smartcards in healthcare continues to gain momentum in the United States as it has in Europe.