New health care card combines medical information storage with payment option
When you visit the doctor, you typically need to take at least two cards with you — your health insurance card and your credit or debit card. Plus, if you’re a new patient, you’ll spend a few minutes sitting with a clipboard and filling out your medical history.
A new health card — set to be rolled out by June 2011 — aims to simplify the process, allowing you to use one card to both pay for your medical visit and transfer your medical records.
|The Personal Health Card from LifeNexus is scheduled to be available in mid-2011.|
The Personal Health Card from Colorado-based LifeNexus Inc. features a computer chip that lets you store your health history, emergency contacts, health insurance numbers, directives (such as a living will), doctors’ notes and other health information. LifeNexus’ iChip can be embedded in credit cards, debit cards, member cards (such as student IDs), pharmacy cards and so forth.
LifeNexus is the first and, so far, only company to offer a card with storage for both medical records and payment information, CEO Christopher Maus says. Similar health care cards are available, such as the 911 Medical ID Card, but none offers the kind of payment feature that LifeNexus’ card does.
Maus expects an array of vendors to offer the card, such as banks, member organizations like AARP or AAA, health insurance companies, health care providers and major employers. Some cards will offer medical data and payment functions, while others will strictly store medical information. Generic, non-branded cards will be available from LifeNexus as well.
Nuts and bolts of LifeNexus card
Here’s how the LifeNexus card will work:
• You obtain your card from LifeNexus or one of its partners. You receive a card as well as a card reader that connects via USB port to your computer; you also download software that lets your reader talk to your computer.
• You protect your card with a password and enter your medical data on it. You can save the information to your computer in encrypted form or can keep it only on the card’s chip.
• You take your card to your doctor’s office, pharmacy, hospital or other health care provider. If a provider has equipment that can read the LifeNexus card, your medical records will be transferred to that provider. Your provider can update the records and download that information back onto your chip, as well as keep a copy. You also can pay a medical bill with the card if it’s linked to a bank or a credit card issuer.
Maus says 10,000 card readers are being shipped to U.S. health care providers, but he’s not at liberty to name those providers yet.
Lee Tien, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit organization that specializes in Internet privacy and security, says he can see the appeal of a medical records card like the one developed by LifeNexus. However, Tien cautions consumers about sharing sensitive medical data.
|One information security expert says consumers need to approach health care “smart cards” with their “eyes wide open.”|
“The fundamental issue whenever we’re talking about health information is how risky it is to have” such information go unprotected, Tien says. “Just like with regular identity theft, there’s medical identity theft; it is a growing problem. The issue of privacy and security around that data is always a very big question. What if you lose the card?”
Nearly 1.5 million Americans were the victims of medical identity theft in 2010, according to a Ponemon Institute survey for the Experian credit bureau. The average loss: $20,663.
Maus says his company will allow only one iChip per customer; you can’t carry several versions of your medical data on several cards. If your card is lost or stolen, LifeNexus can disable your chip remotely if the company is notified.
Data on the iChip is protected by the user’s password and by an application that runs on a “micro-computer” on the chip. If someone tries to use the card and enters an incorrect password too many times, the chip will turn off. Information is stored on the chip, not on a central web server.
The only time the information is transmitted from the chip, Maus says, is when you take it to a participating health care provider, where your card connects securely to your provider’s computer. At no time does LifeNexus see a customer’s health care information, Maus says.
A ‘hard sell’ for consumers?
Don Mazzella, chief operating officer of Information Strategies Inc., a media and marketing firm, says his company’s research indicates that patients want this type of card — as long as their privacy is protected.
Harry Rhodes, director of practice leadership at the American Health Information Management Association, says so-called “smart cards” in the health care industry have been tried but are difficult to administer because of the burden of updating patient information, as well as the costs for equipment, maintenance and lost-card replacement.
“The consumer needs to go into it with eyes wide open,” Rhodes says. “Are they going to keep the information up to date? So far, that’s been a hard sell with consumers. They say they are going to do it, but some of them don’t do it.”