01 January 1998

BOOTS THE CHEMIST is considering whether to combine its Medilink prescription card with its successful Advanta loyalty scheme. Medilink cards are issued to customers whose prescriptions are filled by the chain and contain medical information such as existing medication and known allergies, allowing prescription staff anywhere in the UK to be aware of any potential problems. This data could easily fit onto the Advanta smartcard which incorporates a silicon chip capable of holding 80 megabytes of information - far greater capacity than is required for the loyalty scheme. Boots claims that the two sets of data can be kept separate, each set readable only by specific pre-programmed swipe readers. The Medilink card is approved by the Department of Health and run in partnership with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. The latter has already expressed concern about the possible commercial use of this confidential patient information. The retailer is aware of the moral quicksands surrounding the concept: 'Technically it is possible and it is something we are considering. The speed at which we resolve the ethical issues is what will drive any launch', says Ian Wright, Boots' director of communications.