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Mar 29 2013   10:03AM GMT

Biometric identification in health care for increased patient safety

Posted by: Jenny Laurello
biometric identification, HIPAA, iris scanning, patient ID systems, patient identification, Patient safety

If you’ve ever seen Minority Report, think back to the scene where detective John Anderton walks into the Gap and is identified using their eye scanner. Though the use of biometric technology still seemed beyond its years to many at the time the movie was released in 2002, it is now being utilized across multiple industries for security and identification purposes every day — moving into the consumer realm for secure PC and smartphone login, and even into law enforcement, with the FBI aiming to launch a pilot of a nationwide iris scan database for criminal tracking by 2014. And in health care, hundreds of hospitals and health systems have implemented this technology for patient identification purposes, including Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital (HCMH).

When Lee Powe, Hugh Chatham’s CIO, was pitched the idea to switch from their palm scanning identification system to M2SYS Technology’s RightPatient™ biometric patient ID system — which supports iris scanning in addition to finger print, finger vein, palm vein and face recognition — he was a bit skeptical.

“I was a tough sell, actually. We do a lot of cutting edge things, and I’m an IT guy, but this seemed a bit much for me. But after the decision to implement was made, in three weeks it was up and running in our outpatient area,” Powe said.

A private, not-for-profit hospital in North Carolina, HCMH employs more than 70 physicians servicing 26 specialties or subspecialties, and these clinicians, as well as their patients, had to get on board with utilizing the system. “We started off with palm scanning, but clinicians didn’t ‘get it’ until we went to iris scanning. People understand when you take their picture; it’s not as intrusive or as foreign as a palm scanner. There were also infection control issues with the palm scanner. It had to be cleaned and sanitized after every use, which added a step in the clinicians’ workflows. Now, this isn’t an issue,” Powe noted. “As someone making decisions at the top, your actual users will prove you right or wrong really quick.”

Integration with HCMH’s EHR system is a work in progress, but it’s coming along. “Currently it’s an overlay of our EHR, but we’re working through that so the next software release will have the corresponding pictures and information integrated with each patient record,” said Powe. This is because the system is also able to provide a photograph that can be linked to patient records for multi-factor authentication.

“We’re all waiting for the master patient index for patient identification, and I was in the Army — I get it. But since the industry can’t use social security numbers, utilizing the eyes would be perfect for this.”

Powe continued, “My problem is not using the technology. My problem is deciding where to use it; front end registration or bed side. I have challenged our team that the front end is faster and more efficient. If you can ID someone up front — or similarly if you can avoid misidentifying someone upfront — it becomes a critical factor in ensuring patient safety and fraud mitigation. The majority of the hospitals out there are sending names through multiple systems wrong; there are no automated processes. All these technologies that are interoperable don’t fix the screw ups. They only make them happen faster.”

One reason why iris scanning is growing in popularity is the increased level of specificity it provides for identifying an individual, allowing for more than 200 points of reference for comparison as opposed to only 60 or 70 points in fingerprints. But this doesn’t mean it’s a full proof solution. While iris recognition was found to have an error rate of only one in a million according to a January 2011 study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, research presented at the 2012 Black Hat security conference showed that it is possible to recreate iris images that match digital iris codes, essentially tricking commercial iris-recognition systems into believing they’re real images.

The potential security threats of iris hacking aside, the technolopgy is currently in use in HCMH’s outpatient admissions and radiology departments, where Powe and his team have plans to expand to the emergency room and all affiliated physician practices in the near future.

What’s HCMH’s main reason for implementing this technology? Powe noted that “By and large, we’re doing this for patient safety.”

Jenny serves as the senior community manager for SearchHealthIT’s Health IT Exchange. Follow her on Twitter at @HITExchange and @jennylaurello.

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twodots  |   Jul 29, 2013  3:17 PM (GMT)

Does iris-scanning work on unconscious patients?  Is there a minimum age for a patient to be iris-scanned?


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