Contactless, swipe-able or multi-tech? Each has its end user advantages. For many operations, multiple technologies on the identification card are a bridge to the next step - a smart card with partitioned applications and built-in security.

There's no doubt that several trends are pushing smart card development. One is the need to create a higher-level personal identifier, possibly including a biometrics or even a medical file; the other highlights the evolution of payment systems thanks to financial giants such as MasterCard, American Express and VISA.

Multi-tech vs. Smart Cards

At present, some organizations employ unique database schemes that are extending the usefulness of swipe and multi-tech cards.

In Hamilton, N.J., the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital-Hamilton has a successful Smart Health Card program that ironically isn't based on a smart card.

Success in this healthcare facility has to do as much with the internal marketing of the card as it does with the ease of creating thousands of the cards through Eltron card printers.

"What fits in the palm of your hand and puts medical data right at your fingertips?" the hospital flyer asks. Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital-Hamilton, an acute care community hospital, just 10 miles east of Trenton, has educated and excited patients about the advantages of the card program. Patients know about the Smart Health Card, credit card in size and embedded with a magnetic stripe encoded with the patient's medical record number.

At registration or in the Emergency Department (ED), one simple swipe through a reader, interfaced to the hospital's registration system, and medical staff has immediate access to vital medical information. Instead of simply verifying if a person has medical insurance, the Smart Health Card pulls up information about the patient's last visit. Benefits include ease of registration, less paperwork, a decreased risk of duplicating medical record numbers, enhanced overall quality of care delivered and improvements in the accuracy and reliability of patient data.

Health Records Connection

The card program is part of an overall Patient Card System implemented by Health Card Solutions of Forest Lake, Minn. This systems integrator provides customized health card systems to medical institutions nationwide. As at Robert Wood Johnson-Hamilton, Health Card Solutions specializes in creating a fit between a hospital's patient identification card and its existing hospital information system.

"The community and hospital have reacted favorably to the Smart Health Card program," says Barbara Forsyth, Hospital In-Patient Admissions.

"In our first two years of this program, we printed over 60,000 smart cards," says Forsyth. "Weekly, we continue to print about 100 cards on request per week."

To print cards, the hospital uses two Eltron P310 card printers from Zebra Technologies/Eltron Card Printer Products, Camarillo, Calif.

The standalone P310 prints barcodes, ID photos, graphics and text, edge-to-edge. Green, yellow and red LED indicators provide easy-to-understand printer status. Printer ribbon synchronization is automatic, eliminating the need for operator intervention. An easy to change, self-cleaning cartridge thoroughly removes dust before printing, minimizing missing dots and color registration problems.

Contactless Smart Card Growth

Beyond such multi-tech "bridge" applications, there are indications that payment systems using contactless smart card technology also are growing.

Consumers and retailers alike are attracted to the dual advantages of fast and convenient payment using contactless technology, generating more interest and numerous implementations and pilot trials here in the United States, according to a new Smart Card Alliance white paper.