Federal minister for health and ageing, Tony Abbott, launched the new card at Launceston's Medicare office in Tasmania today.
The card is designed to provide secure access to the federal government's HealthConnect system -- which combines Australia's hodge-podge of medical record databases into a central network -- currently undergoing extensive trials in Tasmania and South Australia.
Rob Wooding, first assistant secretary for the HealthConnect roll-out, said that the smartcard's performance would be tested in Tasmania before making it a standard access mechanism for the national roll-out of HealthConnect.
"A smartcard with a number embedded on a chip seems to us to be the best solution," said Wooding.
Wooding today gave an assurance that authority to use the smartcard to access medical records would reside with its owner. The government is still deciding whether patients will need to register the card with their doctor once or present it each visit.
The federal government is also exploring the possibility of adding other information to the chips such as organ donor records and other medical data.
The government is also considering the feasibility of making HealthConnect available to patients over the Internet.
Wooding said that the cost of the smartcard will be covered by the budget for the HealthConnect project, which is estimated at AU$128 million over the next four years for Tasmania and South Australia.
Tasmanians will be offered the chance to register for the new card from today, with plans to start rolling out smart card reader kiosks in Medicare offices over the next 18 months.