The French smart card manufacturer has acquired rights to add a smart card reader to Apple Computer Inc.'s hand-held computer, the Newton. The combination could take banking beyond the personal computer stage to that of the personal digital assistant - permitting confidential exchanges of financial information and payments wherever and whenever a customer desires. If cash value can be loaded onto the smart card, the Newton becomes functionally equivalent to an automated teller machine. For a start, Schlumberger is applying the concept in France with a modified device it calls the Medical Digital Assistant. In tandem with the national health care card, the terminal allows doctors to eliminate paper. The French terminals, each weighing about a pound and three quarters, are to be marketed early next year to more than 200,000 health professionals at a unit cost of $2,000. All citizens are to have smart health cards by 1998. The system's portability allows doctors to process payments and insurance claims while on house calls, which are still common in France. While the system can easily accommodate electronic payments, and even though all French bank cards are already chip-equipped, the Medical Digital Assistant is not expected to become a payment terminal. "Doctors are not interested in electronic money" and are typically paid in cash or check, said Lauren de Calance, health management systems director for Schlumberger. The doctors are "old-fashioned and don't want to pay a commission to the bank." But the way the Medical Digital Assistant operates has clear implications for banking and other transactions. The medical device will have two smart card readers, one for the doctor's card and one for the patient's. Doctors will be able to view medical histories and write prescriptions onto the patient's card. The doctor's card will provide data for identification and transmitting claims. Privacy will be protected through encryption technology from RSA Data Security Inc. Except for consumer payments, the process will be automated, with claims transmitted electronically to the national health insurance system. Patients will then be reimbursed by check or electronic deposit. The gadget can also send prescriptions directly to pharmacies via modem, which can save time for the patient. She said few doctors in France have personal computers, and they will have to modernize. Although PCs can be modified to accept the new health cards, Schlumberger expects the portable medical assistant to hold greater appeal. "They will have to have a smart card reader," said Ms. de Calance.
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