Thursday, June 23, 2011

Where Would A Health SmartCard Fit in the Australian Healthcare System?

This interesting article appeared a little while ago.

Medical Smart Cards find their Niche

Unified health systems and limited infrastructure offer opportunities to medical-IT innovators.

Most countries, including the U.S., lack integrated online patient-record systems. Patients visiting new doctors need to fill out paper medical-history forms. What's more, over time, records can become spotty, incomplete, and difficult to access. This leads to both inefficiencies in the medical-record system, which cost money, and medical mistakes, which can cost lives.

Researchers and entrepreneurs hope to change that by giving each patient a smart card containing his or her complete medical history. This approach may prove difficult to implement in the U.S., owing to security fears and compatibility issues, but the technology has the potential to transform health care in countries that have unified health systems, or where there's inadequate infrastructure for sharing records in other ways.

Researchers in the U.K. have developed the MyCare card, which is roughly the size and shape of a credit card, with a fold-out USB plug. Another project, SmartCare, first implemented in Zambia, has recently expanded to Ethiopia and South Africa and demonstrates the potential for card-based systems in parts of the world with limited infrastructure.

The MyCare card was developed at City University London; the software for it was developed at Coventry University and is open-source. The fact that anyone can download and view the code, and anyone can contribute to efforts to improve or expand on it, confers advantages.

Developers could create new software that interfaces with the data on the card—for instance, to automatically recognize incompatible prescriptions and display a warning to pharmacists. Open-source software may also provide increased security, because the software can be scrutinized openly for serious flaws. Security is a major issue surrounding medical ID cards, which store potentially sensitive private information. People fear the possibility of losing their entire medical history as easily as they might lose a wallet.

The MyCare card is also meant to interface as easily as possible across a variety of computers and operating systems. Rather than requiring installation on a computer, the card's software runs directly from the card itself.

At the current stage of development, PINs and some degree of encryption protect the data on the card. Panicos Kyriacou, head of the project at City University London, says that more secure encryption will be implemented further along in the development process.

The encryption gives patients and doctors different levels of access. Patients can update personal information, such as next of kin or contact information, but the software allows only professionals such as doctors to edit prescriptions.

No matter how flexible the software on the card becomes, however, it will not be able to automatically work with every hospital database—health-care providers will still need to coƶperate to ensure compatibility.

More here:

http://www.technologyreview.com/biomedicine/37773/?nlid=4597

The idea here is where you want patient control of health information and access to that information where there is no easy access to ‘the cloud’ a solution of this sort may just turn out to be very useful. With our broadband accessibility being pretty reasonable and planned to improve the case for such an approach in Australia is not strong - especially given the issues the Australia Card and the Access Card raised!

David.

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