Healthcare explainer: How France’s new e-carte Vitale will work

Smartphone ‘health cards’ are to be rolled out across the country this year after trials in eight departments

The carte Vitale, soon to be digitised
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A new digital version of France’s health card – known as the e-carte Vitale – is to be rolled out across France in the coming months.

This follows trials in eight departments last year.

It means it will soon be possible to show your carte Vitale at the chemist’s or doctor’s surgery using a smartphone instead of a plastic card.

The conventional carte Vitale has been in people’s wallets since 1998, making health reimbursements simpler.

A swipe of the card replaced the old system of having to systematically collect feuilles de soin health forms each time you went to the doctor or pharmacist, and send them to your Cpam health body for reimbursement.

Instead, it means that where upfront payment is required, reimbursement is automatic into your bank account, or in some cases there is nothing to pay upfront.

The system generally works well, however, for several years now, the government has been advocating the digitisation of cards.

This project is part of a wider updating of the health service.

In February 2022, for example, Assurance maladie launched ‘Mon Espace Santé’, the latest version of online medical records, which was allocated to everyone in the system unless they actively opted out, after disappointing take-up of previous similar schemes.

Digital versions of prescriptions are also being developed.

What are the advantages?

Assurance maladie justifies the move by saying “with their smartphone, it is more likely that patients will have their carte Vitale on them, so the e-carte vitale is the guarantee of always being able to do the reimbursement electronically”.

According to Assurance maladie the new system will also link directly to a database of patients’ details and social security rights, reducing risks of errors or rejected reimbursement claims.

It also lowers the risk of infections linked to handling physical cards.

One advantage for users is, Assurance Maladie says, that it will in the longer term be possible to also integrate details of their top-up mutuelle insurance into it, so this is also digitised.

The application will also allow users to check on the acts and medicines they have paid for via the app over the previous seven days. They will also be able to keep their health reimbursement rights updated on the application without having to visit a pharmacy or their Cpam.

Finally, another promised function is allowing users to delegate use of the e-carte Vitale to another trusted person for a set period, for example to grandparents who are looking after grandchildren.

Read also: Carte Vitale, prescriptions: Ten changes for health in France in 2023

How does it work?

First you have to download a mobile app onto your smartphone, called ‘apCV’.

The user will then be able to upload details of their physical carte Vitale into the app.

During a consultation or a purchase in the chemist, the user will only have to show a QR code on their phone to be read by an electronic reading device, or place the phone on an ‘NFC’ terminal.

Assurance maladie is recommending the QR code version in the first instance as not all smartphones are equipped with ‘NFC’ technology.

On this app, it will be possible to find the user's data, their national health identifier and data for monitoring the use of the card.

What about data security?

Assurance maladie states that the data on the app will have the same level of security as the physical card but it will only be able to store a limited amount of information: surnames, first name(s), gender or sex, status (insured person, child etc) “and the organisation to which they belong."

In addition, users will have to perform double authentication each time: "via the insured's smartphone and via a personal secret code," explains Assurance maladie.

Read also: Personal details of 10,200 benefit claimants placed online in France

What is the timetable for deployment?

This digital tool was already deployed last year in eight different health insurance funds: Alpes-Maritimes, Bas-Rhin, Loire-Atlantique, Puy-de-Dôme, Rhône, Saône-et-Loire, Sarthe and Seine-Maritime.

This system will spread nationwide this year, it is planned.

What about the physical health cards?

The authorities do not wish to abolish the traditional carte Vitale for the time being.

Some French media have stated physical cards are expected to be phased out by 2026, though we have not seen official confirmation of this. It is also planned that the state will offer training for people unfamiliar with using digital technology. It will also encourage mutuelle top-up insurance providers to do the same.

In the meantime, beneficiaries will be able to hold one carte Vitale in each of the two available forms.

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