Australia Card redux – now patients want it

Twenty years after a huge public outcry stopped the introduction of the Australia Card, it appears that Australians are now ready for smart cards – at least when it comes to their health – according to a study published in this months’ Australian Health Review.

The survey, conducted with 270 emergency department patients and 92 staff at three hospital emergency departments in Victoria, compared the perceptions of patients and staff regarding the use of health smart cards containing patient medical records.

The study recorded data on a range of health smart card issues including awareness, privacy, confidentiality, security, advantages and disadvantages, and willingness to use. While a significantly higher proportion of staff had heard of the card, more of the patients said they were willing to use it.

The perceived disadvantages reported by patients and staff were, overall, significantly different, with the staff reporting more disadvantages. A significantly higher proportion of patients believed that they should choose what information is on the card and who should have access to the information.

Patients were more conservative regarding what information should be included, but staff were more conservative regarding who should have access to the information. Significantly fewer staff believed that patients could reliably handle the cards.

Overall, however, the cards were considered acceptable and useful, and their introduction would be supported.

Study author Dr David Taylor, director of emergency medicine at Melbourne’s Austin Health, said a major benefit of smart cards would be to save time. He told 6 minutes, “It’s quicker for a doctor to put a card into a machine and push a few buttons on a computer than it is to request a medical chart to come from medical records … or call up the patient’s GP or their pharmacist … it would save an enormous amount of work.”

Dr Taylor said that situations such as a patient  forgetting to bring along their card or the accuracy of information could pose problems for the system, but said it had worked “reasonably well” in a Tasmanian trial.