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Not Your Average Card

May 1, 2006
by Frank Jossi
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Having proved their effectiveness in employee identification, smart cards are starting to enter the clinical realm.

Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York recently began a program to distribute smart cards to more than 100,000 patients in what may be the largest deployment of that technology in the country. Eight affiliated New York-area hospitals agreed to have card readers available to handle referrals and visits from patients using the Mount Sinai smart cards.

Designed by Boca Raton, Fla.-based Siemens Communications, the 64KB Patient Health Smart Card will include demographic information, allergies, medications, treatment history and other vital healthcare data, says Paul Contino, vice president of information technology at Mount Sinai. Physicians and staff who treat patients will be able to update the cards with new medical information, he says.Paul continoDavid boone

"We see this as a model for the national health infrastructure network or at least a potential solution on the near horizon," he suggests. "It allows patients to control their medical information, and that's the right position for patients to be in."

Widely accepted and used in dozens of industries, smart cards are starting to impact hospitals in two ways — patient care and employee identification. Most American hospitals use smart cards to ID employees and allow them access to networks and facilities, says Randy Vanderhoof, executive director of the Smart Card Alliance (SCA) in Princeton Junction, N.J.

Arming patients with smart cards will be the next step, he believes, because their use can decrease administrative costs, reduce fraud, offer emergency information quickly and strengthen patient loyalty.

Denver Health represents a more traditional application of smart cards. More than 1,100 employees use them to access the hospital's network and to gain entrance to rooms and facilities, says computer operations manager David Boone.

Developed by Gemplus, International (Burlingame, Calif.), Denver Health's smart cards offer "validation of employees and allows our security guys to know you are who you say you are," says Boone. Since the hospital began using smart cards three years ago, calls to the help desk have "gone down considerably," he says, because personnel have only to remember a personal identification number, not both a PIN and a user name.

The cards also help Denver Health secure access to data and comply with industry-wide privacy directives. "I think, overall, that smart cards help us provide better patient care," Boone adds.

Author Information:

Frank Jossi is a freelance writer based in St. Paul, Minn.