Smart Card Use Surging in Health Care, Government

The market for smart cards in health care and government will reach $72 billion in value by 2016, according to a report by ABI Research.

Smart cards, which are used for everything from health insurance to national identification cards, are poised for big growth, according to a new report by ABI Research.

The March 22 report, "Smart Cards in Government and Healthcare Citizen ID," concludes that the smart card market will peak in 2014 and then level off at close to $15 billion.

Smart cards are common in Europe and could appear in the United States by 2014, ABI analyst Phil Sealy told eWEEK. Countries in which smart cards are used include France, Brazil and Poland.

In addition to health care and government, the contactless smart cards are also used in the transportation and banking industries for access control, Sealy said.

The small chips in the cards have a read/write capacity to allow doctors to store information on patient treatment, he said.

Smart cards in health care are used to combat forgery, including identity theft. Electronic health records raise fears of identity theft among patients, according to a Sept. 20 "Market Pulse Survey" by Harris Interactive. In the survey, 80 percent of Americans, 81 percent of Britons and 83 percent of Australians expressed concerns about the digitization of medical data.

Identification cards are moving from legacy€”traditional paper cards without a built-in chip€”to dual-interface national ID cards.

"We expect to see strong and continued adoption of dual-interface ICs primarily utilized in national ID cards," said Sealy.

Meanwhile, China has an upgrade pending on national IDs with built-in microcontrollers.

The cards are increasingly contactless, according to Sealy. "Contactless is the new 'must-have' technology in the ID space," he said, noting that Germany, Egypt and China have deployed national ID projects using contactless cards.

Despite the growth forecast for smart cards, a barrier to use is making them all compatible, said Sealy.

With governments controlling the health care system in some countries, sometimes budgets are cut or new political parties come into power and cards stop working, he noted.

Russia is having difficulty getting national ID cards to function correctly and "talk" to each other, said Sealy.

According to ABI, the top smart card vendors include Genalto, Giesecke & Devrient (G&D), Morpho and Oberther Technologies.

Morpho's cards use biometric algorithms to search health care providers' databases for duplicate records. They also incorporate facial biometrics to check identities. The cards are used in countries such as the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Sweden and South Africa.

In addition to providing access to health care facilities and holding health insurance data, the Morpho cards can store information on allergies, blood type, organ donor status and chronic diseases. In addition, they can store electronic prescriptions as well as encrypt patients' medical data.

The Morpho card conforms to the Electronic European Health Insurance Card (e-EHIC) standard for smart cards.

Like Morpho, Genalto's cards also store electronic prescriptions as well as patient data on allergies.

Meanwhile, Oberther's ID-One cards feature embedded cryptography and support the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) and RSA public-key encryption algorithm.

Based in Germany, G&D also offers embedded cryptography on its smart cards and allows patients to store their medication logs.