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Health Care Smart Cards Put Medical Records in Your Wallet

Mary Lou Jay

Will the ordinary insurance card you carry be replaced by a smart card that electronically stores your medical records and other health care information? It could happen if a Colorado-based company called LifeNexus is successful in its new product launch.

LifeNexus’ Personal Health Card, which is scheduled for release in June 2011, has a chip that allows consumers to enter and store their own medical data: medical history, immunizations, allergies, prescription history and advanced directives, plus contact and insurance information. The company also offers a prepaid option so consumers can cover co-pays, prescription costs and similar medical expenses using the card.

LifeNexus’ card comes with a reader that plugs into your computer’s USB port. Once you plug it in, the software guides you through the process of entering your medical information (which is password-protected).

According to advocates, like the nonprofit advocacy group Smart Card Alliance, the cards can:

  • Save money. The Medical Group Management Association, which is advocating introduction of standardized, machine-readable health care cards through its Project SwipeIT, estimates that administrative complexities related to non-standardized insurance cards cost physician practices about $2.2 billion a year. The savings realized with health care smart cards could go toward providing care for more people or reducing the costs of medical care overall.
  • Help save lives by providing quick access to patients’ medical information in emergency situations or if they switch hospitals. Health smart cards can lead to better diagnoses and treatment plans because all physicians treating a patient have access to his or her medical records. Health care smart cards also eliminate the need for patients to fill out lengthy paperwork each time they visit a doctor.
  • Reduce fraud. A card could include biometric information (like fingerprints) to confirm the identity of the person using it.

There have been several trials of health care smart cards in the United States. Elmhurst Hospital Center, part of the Queens Health Network in New York, has issued Elmhurst Connection Cards to 14,000 of its adult primary care patients, according to the Smart Card Alliance. The cards, which feature a photo ID and important medical information, are updated during each patient’s visit.

In Florida, more than 15 health organizations participate in the eLife-Card program, according to the Smart Card Allliance. The program was started as a result of the state’s experience after hurricanes destroyed hospitals and physicians’ patient records. With the data encrypted on the card, patients can carry that information wherever they go.

Health care smart cards do have their critics, however. They question the cards’ security and worry about hackers stealing the medical, personal and health insurance information. There are also concerns about privacy and about who has access to medical records contained on the card. In 2010, Germany halted a program that would have provided smart cards to all of the 80 million people on its health plans because of concerns about security of patient data.

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