Rethinking Healthcare

MyCare: your entire medical history on a smart card

MyCare: your entire medical history on a smart card

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Developed in the UK, the cards could be especially useful for medical emergencies in rural countries that lack infrastructure, but would it work in "network- and mobile-centric" America?

Is it asking too much to never have to fill out another paper medical history form again? Or to be able to convey your latex allergy while you’re unconscious?

Well... UK researchers have developed the MyCare Card (pictured) that can hold your complete medical history. It’s about the size and shape of a credit card, but with a slide-out, flip-over USB plug for immediate access.

This smart card has the potential to save money lost to inefficiencies in the medical record system… not to mention lives lost to not (or mis-) communicating blood type, allergies, or preexisting conditions.

“Our device makes potentially life-saving data easily accessible,” says project leader Panicos Kyriacou at City University London.

  • The software for the card is open-source, and anyone can download and view the code, and then contribute to the development process.
  • Developers could create new software, for example, to automatically recognize incompatible prescriptions to warn pharmacists.
  • It’s meant to interface as easily as possible across a variety of computers and operating systems (it uses Python programming language).
  • Rather than require installation on a computer, the software runs directly from the card itself.
  • Patients can update personal info, like next of kin, on their home computers, but the software allows only professionals to edit prescriptions.

Initial trials in the UK have been successful, and it could be available in 3 years, according to the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The card, however, may be difficult to implement in the US, what with security fears and compatibility issues. (I mean, your entire medical history could be gone along with your wallet.)

At this stage, PINs and some degree of encryption protect the data on the card. Kyriacou says that more secure encryption will be implemented further along in the development process.

Also, it can’t automatically work with every hospital database. There will still need to be cooperation among healthcare providers – despite their vested interest in keeping patients and their records in their networks alone.

BUT the card-based system is "not a good fit" for the US, says John Halamka, chairman of the Healthcare Information Technology Standards Panel. "We tend to be more network- and mobile-centric," he says, and "carrying around a card, which is common in Europe, is not our culture."

He’s talking about the cloud.

So the technology could transform healthcare in countries with unified health systems on their way to a universal electronic record system, and maybe also where there's inadequate infrastructure for sharing records in other ways.

Another project – called SmartCare – deployed in Zambia, Ethiopia, and South Africa, demonstrates the potential for card-based systems in parts of the world that lack the infrastructure for a network-based system.

And the spotty telecommunications or unreliable power supplies of rural, low-tech places can't compromise the info stored on cards.

Via Technology Review.

Image: MyCare Card

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Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure