A health smart card is a plastic card, about the size of a credit card, that is embedded with a computer chip containing both the administrative and medical data of a patient. The data contained in the card is in a compact, encrypted, computer-readable form, so that a great deal of information can be housed on the card’s chip. Health smart cards cannot be read unless the patient has entered a personal identification number (PIN) and the card is being used in an authorized smart card reader. Card readers can be found in a number of places, including ambulances, emergency rooms, hospitals, doctor’s offices, pharmacies, retirement facilities and clinics.
The proposed benefit of a health smart card is the idea that a patient’s needs can be met more efficiently, as pertinent medical information is available where and when it’s needed. The patient’s medical history, updated medication list, drug and other allergies, as well as health insurance information can be stored on the card’s chip. The health smart card can also contain contact information for the patient and the information on family and friends. Developers of the card believe it will eventually mark the end of the form filling and the paper work that’s part of the medical experience.
In practical use, and trial settings, health smart cards have been shown to lower the occurrence of inaccurate medical information being provided. The card also significantly sped up the time involved in getting medical information in situations where a patient cannot speak on his own behalf, or cannot give complete information. As data is shared between medical practitioners, the use of health smart cards can reduce the redundancy of tests, and information sharing can also help prevent drug interactions.
Fundamental to practices of ethical health care, health smart cards enable a high level of security and confidentiality. When using a health smart card, the PIN ensures that the card bearer’s identity can be verified. Data cannot be intercepted or altered when transferred for communication purposes because of its encryption. If higher levels of security are desired, features such as fingerprint identification can be used.
Part of what makes the health smart card "smart" is its ability to present data differentially. The reader system can be configured to present partial data to different users. For example, a dentist would have access to different information than a gynecologist would. For this feature to work, it is necessary to determine what information is required and by whom.
Health smart card technology is considered to be a patient-driven system. As new medical services are performed, the health smart card’s database will need to be updated. It is the patient’s responsibility to make sure information is correct. With the same make-up as a credit card, the drawback of the health smart card is its physical flexibility. Often housed in a wallet, the card can easily get damaged, making it unreadable.