Alliance Activities : Publications : Healthcare Industry

Smart Card Applications in the U.S. Healthcare Industry

Publication Date: February 2006

  • Click here to download the white paper [263k PDF].
  • Click here for information about the Smart Card Alliance Healthcare Council.

Executive Summary

John Taylor walks into the cancer clinic with his 7-year-old daughter for what he hopes will be the last time. After almost 18 months of treatment, Rebecca seems to be in full remission. John is relieved-in fact, almost everyone involved is relieved. During Rebecca’s ordeal, various family members have filled out the same forms 73 times and been asked the same questions during all 116 visits to the different participating members of Rebecca’s care team. Rebecca has received the wrong medication three times (once with dire effect) and been subjected to duplicate lab tests and radiology studies because previous test results were not available. Rebecca’s reward for having experienced all this and survived? Expenses of about $18,000 dollars above and beyond what was necessary for her treatment.

Although this story may sound like fiction, it is true. Healthcare systems in the United States are burdened with paperwork, prone to errors, and in some cases, hazardous to one’s health. On top of these issues, the industry faces high costs, increased fraud and government-mandated requirements to put in place processes and systems that protect the privacy of patients’ personal information.

Healthcare organizations are now investigating and deploying new information technology that is designed not only to solve the significant challenges that the industry is facing, but that also provide new functionality that improves patient care and the efficiency of healthcare delivery. Smart card technology is being incorporated into many of these new healthcare systems as an instrumental component that protects and enables convenient access to patient data and that supports new applications that deliver both clinical and administrative benefits.

Smart cards are used worldwide for many applications, including healthcare, financial, transit, telecommunications, and secure identification. Defined at the highest level, a smart card is a device (e.g., a plastic card) that includes an embedded integrated circuit (IC) chip. Applications that use smart cards take advantage of the technology’s ability to provide secure, portable storage of data, enable authenticated access to information (either on the card or within the application system), and support secure transactions between the card and the system. Also important in many applications is the familiar form factor–a plastic card–that is convenient to use.

Smart card technology provides a feature-rich, flexible platform for healthcare organizations to implement applications that address key industry issues. This white paper provides an overview of how smart cards are used in a variety of these applications, including:

  • Supporting privacy and security requirements mandated by HIPAA
  • Providing the secure carrier for portable medical records
  • Supporting new processes that can reduce administrative costs
  • Reducing healthcare fraud
  • Providing secure access to emergency medical information
  • Providing support for patient loyalty programs
  • Enabling compliance with government initiatives and mandates

The white paper discusses some of the daunting challenges facing the U.S. healthcare industry today and has identified clear opportunities for the employment of smart card technology to address and resolve these issues. In recent years, there has been a pronounced effort to establish and refine standards for maintaining and moving healthcare data. With continued advances in smart card technology and the increased awareness of its practical solutions, healthcare organization use of that technology is gathering momentum. This paper has cited some examples of smart card use, and has suggested additional applications for consideration. Of course, there are a plethora of new healthcare applications waiting for discovery and implementation.

About this White Paper

This white paper was developed by the Smart Card Alliance Healthcare Council to describe the value that smart cards deliver in a variety of U.S. healthcare applications. Developed as an educational overview for executives and senior managers in healthcare provider organizations, it reviews key challenges that the U.S. healthcare provider industry faces and examines the key drivers for implementing smart card-based systems to address these challenges.

The white paper concludes with profiles of a number of organizations who are implementing smart cards, including the Queens Health Network, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, St. Luke’s Episcopal Health System, Florida eLife-Card, Texas Medicaid, and the French and German health cards. These implementations illustrate the diversity of applications that are enabled by smart card technology and the business benefits that the technology delivers to healthcare organizations.

About the Health and Human Services Council

The Smart Card Alliance Health & Human Services Council brings together human services organizations, payers, healthcare providers, and technologists to promote the adoption of smart cards in U.S. health and human services organizations and within the national health IT infrastructure. The Health & Human Services Council provides a forum where all stakeholders can collaborate to educate the market on the how smart cards can be used and to work on issues inhibiting the industry.