Cards Generate Big Bucks - So Why Aren't Hospitals Using Them?

After reading about Visa's Healthcare Gift Card (see today's earlier post), I was curious about other potential card uses in the hospital market.

These cards are big bucks. Click here to read about how the alternative giftcard market is making a lot more than chunk change for Safeway.

I can think of one very interesting application for the H/HC market.

Colleges and universities are using "onecards," cards with magnetic strips linked to a student's account. You can use the cards to pay for a meal, a triple venti skinny mocha, a CD from the campus bookstore, or a scoop of gelato from a neighborhood shop.

The cards usually have the users photo, a logo, and other information encoded or 'linked' (such as the students account including course enrollment data, demographics, etc.) via the magnetic data, a barcode or RFID tag.

In my idealized future hospital, patients (and patients' families) could charge a reusable onecard and use it at locations around the hospital to pay for things in the cafeteria, coffee shop, gift shop, perhaps even surrounding area restaurants and other local businesses (check out the model used by Virginia Tech).

Here's how you could push the card concept several steps further by linking it to an EMR system. *And if no one's doing this yet, who'll be the first hospital to implement and build on the concept?!

If your hospital employs RFID tagging, you could issue every patient 2 cards upon admission, one for their use and one that care providers use (stored in the chart). If you're using EMRs, you could swipe the patient's card before each treatment, medication administration, vitals check, procedure, when calling up records/results from radiology, etc.

Of course, this type of integrated system is useful for billing and reconciliation in current systems, but it would REALLY generate some burning ROI only if your charges are transparent and patients can compare what they're paying to a listed menu of services and corresponding costs.

To get this going, I'd take the following steps:

1. Visit a few colleges/universities in your area and view the onecard systems in action. Take notes. Ask questions. Think of challenges you might have in translating this system to your organization. Ask one of the administrators for a reference - who was their sales rep? How did they decide which vendor to select? What advantages 'sealed the deal?' How often has the system gone down (if ever)? What backup does the school have in place?

2. Contact a few onecard vendors (or get your Administrative Fellow to do it). Work through the chain until you find a salesrep that really knows their stuff. Ask them all your tough questions. They should be hopping to come onsite and show you how things might work. Walk them through your facility. If they don't ask questions, don't call them back.

3. Put out RFPs. Do your homework. Proceed with your normal vetting process. Do the CBA. Ask other hospital administrators and your personal brain trust for thoughts. Does this make sense? Will it create undue complexity AFTER the painful trial and implementation phase?

4. Pull someone you don't know well from every department, an environmental services worker, night float pool nurse, greeter, dining services representative, etc. Form an action team, not a committee. Tell them they'll be mystery shopping systems. Ask them what they think about the idea. Better yet, see Step 1. Take this delegation on the college tour with you and record their opinions. And finally, don't make the mistake of using this team in all the planning stages and then leaving them out of the decision-making process. One person on the team = one vote when winnowing down the vendors.

5. Take a deep breath and pull the trigger. If you've done due diligence, you're making the right choice.

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