Pros an cons of ‘smart’ health cards – Health Clinic

Q: I understand that it is now possible to get a card that has all your medical information and history on it. Do you know where I can get one? Do you think the information will be kept confidential?

A: There are various private companies that provide “smart” health cards that store all your medical records including blood type, major operations and illnesses and present prescriptions. One such company, International Medical ReCARD Systems of Kelowna, B.C., offers cards for $15.

There are pros and cons to owning a smart card. There has been much discussion by bioethics associations and provincial governments, who have been talking about introducing these into provincial health-care systems. Western provinces have been closely observing the Quebec experiment that uses this technology.

Smart health-care cards are primarily designed to prevent health-care insurance fraud rather than be of benefit to the owner. However, it can be useful to doctors to be able to access your medical records if you are in the emergency room in an unconscious state. Travellers or the elderly may forget the names and dosages of their prescription drugs. The card would be able to provide this information to any doctor.

The company stresses that only the information you provide can be used on the card. For example, you might want to refrain from telling them that you have had an abortion, a hysterectomy or were suffering from AIDS.

You may not need to purchase a card if your province comes up with its own smart card system.

Alberta premier Ralph Klein announced about two years ago that the province was working on such a card.

There are concerns about confidentiality of your medical history and how secure this information would be. Could computer hackers get into the system? Would private insurance companies or other private enterprises be able to buy this information? Most people who buy private disability insurance or even life insurance do not realize that they have signed a waiver letting the company have access to all their medical records. This happens when you apply for insurance in the first place, and again when you are making a claim. If you see a doctor for heart problems, AIDS, cancer or psychiatric illness, you may have to pay higher premiums or not be eligible for insurance at all.

The final question is how much will these cards cost us in the long run? I expect health-care premiums or taxes will have to rise to cover the cost of the cards and maintain the computer system that runs them. Doctor’s offices and hospitals will also have to have the scanners that can read the information stored on the smart cards.

Clare Rowson is a medical doctor with a practice near Belleville, Ont. Her columns are intended for general information only. Individuals are encouraged to also seek the advice of their own doctor regarding medical questions and treatments.

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