"From today, 10,000 insurance holders will be receiving the new electronic card, whose functions will be gradually tested in doctors' offices, pharmacies and hospitals over the next few months," said Marion Caspers-Merk of the German Ministry of Health on Monday.
The new electronic health insurance card, which should be released for general use in 2008, is meant to reduce administrative costs in the health industry and simplify information access for medical workers.
In addition to containing the carrier's photo, which is expected to reduce the abuse of health insurance privileges, the card has an electronic chip that will eventually contain the patient's complete health record.
"The card is an important step on the path to better medical services for our 82 million citizens," Caspers-Merk said.
The development costs for the high-tech card, which have been estimated to around 1,6 billion euros ($2.1 billion), are expected to be amortized in five years.
The Minister of Health in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein called the testing of the electronic health-insurance card "the beginning of the digital revolution in the health sector."
The information recorded on the health-insurance card will be encrypted and legible only by special reading devices. Healthcare providers will be required to purchase the device for 300 euros.