Alliance Activities : Publications : Smart Card Technology in Healthcare : FAQ

Smart Card Technology in U.S. Healthcare: Frequently Asked Questions

This document was developed to answer questions about how smart cards work and how the technology is used to manage patient identity and protect a healthcare consumer’s personal information. The FAQ provides an easy-to-use resource for understanding how smart card technology is used for healthcare applications and for discussing the benefits that smart healthcare cards deliver to patients, healthcare providers and healthcare payers. Unless specifically noted, the answers are focused on the use and deployment of smart cards in healthcare applications in the United States. In addition, the questions and answers apply only to smart card-based patient identity management systems and not to patient identity systems based on magnetic stripe or other ID card technologies.

FAQ Questions

I. About Smart Cards


  1. What is a smart card?
  2. How do smart cards work?
  3. How are smart cards used?
  4. What kinds of healthcare information can smart cards store?
  5. What smart card security features can protect personal healthcare information?
  6. Do smart cards have advantages over magnetic stripe cards?
  7. Is contactless smart card technology the same as RFID?
  8. Do all smart cards look the same?
  9. Can smart cards store a patient’s complete medical record?
  10. Who can access the information on a smart card?
  11. What are the advantages of smart cards over a biometrics-only solution for identity authentication?

II. Smart Cards and the Healthcare Ecosystem


  1. Who benefits from smart cards?
  2. How many smart cards are currently deployed in the healthcare market?
  3. Have any stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem deployed smart cards?
    Implementation Considerations
  4. What are the major barriers to smart healthcare card implementation?
  5. How much time is required to roll smart healthcare cards out to cardholders?
  6. Is a unique patient ID needed to use smart healthcare cards?
  7. Can smart cards integrate with current healthcare applications and workflow?
  8. Can smart healthcare cards help prevent identity theft?
    Operational Considerations
  9. How are cardholders prevented from “sharing” a card?
  10. How is information on a card updated when cardholder information changes?
  11. Can card data be accessed in emergencies?
  12. Who maintains the demographic data on smart cards?
    Business Considerations
  13. Which stakeholders typically pay for or issue smart cards?
  14. Can the return on investment for smart cards in healthcare be demonstrated?
  15. Can smart cards contribute to effective health information exchange without national positive patient identification?
  16. What happens if cardholders forget their cards?
    Regulatory Issues
  17. Can smart healthcare cards facilitate HIPAA compliance?
  18. Can smart healthcare cards facilitate American Recovery and Reinvestment Act compliance?
  19. What is “meaningful use” and can smart healthcare cards facilitate compliance?

III. Smart Cards and Patients


  1. How can smart healthcare cards help patients?
  2. How would patients use smart healthcare cards?
  3. How do smart healthcare cards protect personal healthcare information?

IV. Smart Cards and Healthcare Providers


  1. How can smart healthcare cards help providers?
  2. How can smart healthcare cards help hospitals?
  3. Are any hospitals or healthcare systems currently using smart cards?
  4. How can smart card technology improve critical or emergency care?
    Implementation Considerations
  5. What are the IT requirements for smart healthcare card support?
  6. Is an in-place electronic medical records (EMR) system required to benefit from smart healthcare cards?
  7. What are the benefits of using smart healthcare cards with an EMR/EHR system?
  8. Can smart healthcare cards connect multiple medical record numbers for secure ID verification?
  9. Can smart card application software integrate into current provider software systems?
  10. How can patient resistance to a smart card deployment be minimized?
  11. How can a patient get a treating physician’s records into a personal health record if that physician does not have an electronic health record system?
    Operational Considerations
  12. Can one smart healthcare card be used by different providers?
  13. Will using smart healthcare cards change an organization’s work flow?
  14. Can smart healthcare cards be used offline?
    Business Considerations
  15. Who pays for a smart healthcare card?
  16. What fixed and variable costs are associated with issuing smart healthcare cards?
  17. Can smart healthcare cards deliver long-term financial benefits to providers?
  18. What is the ROI for smart healthcare cards?
  19. What are the implications of smart healthcare cards for insurance co-payments?
  20. What are some approaches for branding and community engagement?

V. Smart Cards and Payers


  1. How can smart healthcare cards help a payer?
  2. Are any payers using smart cards today?
    Operational Considerations
  3. How is an eligibility check performed with payers?
  4. Can smart healthcare cards handle discrepancies in information in practice systems?
    Business Considerations
  5. Do insurance companies pay for the issuance of smart healthcare cards?
  6. What are the implications of using smart healthcare cards for copayments, deductibles, payments, and billings?
  7. What are the benefits of using smart healthcare cards for Medicare and Medicaid?

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.


The Smart Card Alliance wishes to thank the Healthcare and Identity Council members for their contributions including: ABnote Group; CSC; Datacard Group; Eid Passport; Gemalto; LifeMed ID, Inc.; Oberthur Technologies; OTI America; RM Industries; SafeNet Inc.; SecureKey Technologies; Watchdata Technologies USA; XTec, Inc.

Note: The FAQ describes potential uses of smart cards in healthcare applications and in patient identity management systems; the features supported and the capabilities of the smart healthcare cards will depend on the specific solution being implemented. Not all solutions provide all of the capabilities discussed in this document.