Let's See Some ID

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Mount Sinai builds a secure patient-hospital connection using card technology.

Having the right information about the patient in exam room three means more to a hospital than just providing proper care. Correctly identifying patients can improve a hospital's billing and reimbursement processes and lead to financial savings, says Paul Brian Contino, vice president for information technology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. The 1,171-licensed-bed hospital has partnered with nine metropolitan New York hospitals to offer the personal health card--a photo identification card that contains identifying information about each patient, as well as his or her medical histories, drug allergies and insurance information.

In January 2007, Mount Sinai and its affiliates partnered with Siemens to distribute the cards, which are equipped with a 64K microchip that can hold as many as 30 pages of textual data and even EKG images. Information is collected by hospital registration staff upon a patient's first visit and updated each time the patient visits a Mount Sinai or affiliated site. The data on the cards can be accessed at secure computer stations throughout the hospitals.

When a patient presents the card, Mount Sinai staff members know the information contained on it has been verified by a member of their hospital staff or one of its affiliates, and that the patient already has a file set up at the hospital, Contino says. And with the patient's photo on the card, the chances of insurance fraud are also reduced, he says.

Each card is equipped with a PIN number, similar to a debit card, says Contino. If it is lost or stolen, the card is useless without the PIN, he says, with one exception--emergency department staff members have clearance to override the PIN if a patient comes into the hospital unconscious.

Although it's hard to predict just how many hospitals will use this kind of technology in future years, Randy Vanderhoof, executive director of the Princeton, NJ-based nonprofit Smart Card Alliance, which advocates for the adoption and widespread application of smart card technology, says it goes a long way to fix some of the biggest problems in healthcare.

"It's an important piece of the overall method of modernizing and improving the way healthcare is managed," he says. "The more proactive providers are embracing this and moving forward."

-Maureen Larkin

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