There are numerous challenges facing the health industry in South Africa at this time. Patients have little or no access to their own medical data.
Patient health records are currently maintained individually by each physician that treats a patient, by every hospital or clinic that serves a patient and by any medical aid institution that covers the patient’s medical service.
Patients also have to stand in long queues to receive a service, be admitted or receive treatment from medical providers who themselves are increasingly burdened with the cost and complexity of healthcare administration.
Dilan Radia, manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers' Digital Identity Solutions (DIS) division, says an electronic health smartcard, ideally carried on the patient at all times, could go a long way in resolving some of these problems.
“From a patient’s perspective, the unique, secure and tamperproof eHealth card can serve as standardised proof of identification and validation when using medical facilities. It can also be easily integrated to a multitude of backend health systems meaning that an authorised healthcare provider would have a single view of the patient’s medical records at any point in time.”
Using the card, Radia says patients would be able to maintain and control access to their own medical records at all times. Patients would be able to change their personal or biographic information through self-service portals via the Internet, kiosks, cellular phones, mobile personal digital assistants, designated call centres etc. With next-of-kin information stored on the card, they can easily be notified in cases of accidents or misfortune.
By storing emergency information such as current treatments, allergies and blood type on the card and the rapid availability of this information could save a patient’s life. Value added applications such as ePurse applications (money management) would provide a patient with the ability to manage their healthcare accounts and services using a single integrated form factor.
“Even your next medical appointment can be stored on the card.”
For the healthcare facilities and other service providers, which are presently not optimally streamlined, a biometric-capable eHealth solution would lead to a reliable, resilient and highly available centralised back-office that integrates a number of backend sources to provide reliable and accurate identification and validation, monitoring and reporting services.
Healthcare institutions could positively identify patients through visual identification of the patient through a photograph printed on the eHealth smartcard. There would be more accurate and efficient access to patient medical records stored both locally on the eHealth smartcard (particularly useful in offline mode when no network connectivity or power outages) as well as in a multitude of backend data sources, safeguards would protect against fraud or impersonations, and patient registration and enrolment processes would become more efficient and effective.
Radia does not, at this stage, see the smartcard being replaced by a chip embedded into the physical body. “The smartcard will provide additional security features such as strong authentication using biometrics and can be easily replaced if lost/stolen or destroyed without being concerned about the information stored on the smartcard getting into the wrong hands.”
The eHealth smartcard solution has been implemented in a number of countries e.g. Germany, France and Serbia. Slovenia is currently renewing and upgrading their current microprocessor-based health cards to e-health smartcards. South Africa is also considering implementing a smart health card solution.
“What was once considered to be far-fetched is now becoming a reality globally."