Smart Cards for Healthcare in Europe

Published: 3 May 2010

Smart cards are like credit cards embedded with microprocessors, which hold important information on the person who holds them. Seen as one of the most interesting and recent revolutions in the computing arena, smart cards store data, calculate, process, manage data, are safer than magnetic strip cards, and execute encryption algorithms via a smart card reader. They were first used in France. Healthcare is the third-largest sector in the world to deploy smart cards into their applications, behind pay phones and GSM applications.

Smart cards are of two basic types - contact and contact-less smart cards. While the prior requires a smart card reader to be of some use, the latter requires only an antenna nearby. Contact smart cards have a small gold chip instead of a magnetic strip, while contact-less ones have a microprocessor chip and an antenna coil inside that makes them work faster than contact cards. Apart from these two basic types, there are two more types, based on the microprocessor connectivity - combi cards and hybrid cards. Combi cards have a single chip with a contact and contact-less interface, while hybrid cards have two chips, each with its respective contact and contact-less interface. Healthcare is one of the biggest users of smart cards, especially in Europe. This article attempts to give a snapshot of the smart card usage in the European healthcare sector.

Smart Cards for Healthcare Market in Europe

Smart cards are being increasingly applied by the European healthcare sector. Both the patients and healthcare providers use smart cards. There are nationwide health card initiatives in Europe, including the Versichertenkarte project in Germany (it was upgraded to eGesundheitskarte piloting April 2006) and SESAM Vitale and SESAM Vitale 2 in France. Most of the smart cards are built with 64 kb in-built memory, except Germany, where the smart cards have memory up to 72 kb. European healthcare employs smart cards to ensure user authentication, identification, proof of entitlement and emergency data access. The European smart card market is growing with new technologies such as RFID cards, USB-enabled cards and integrated SIM cards. But the market growth is curbed on the other end by factors such as varied European standards and laws, data protection and privacy issues, and interoperability issues.

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