Biometric Patient ID Technology: Is it the Future of Patient Access?

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Using biometric patient ID technology is a relatively new concept for healthcare, but is it the future of patient access?

Pay close attention on your next visit to the hospital or doctor’s office, you may notice some changes in how medical providers identify who you are. With the increased focus on improving patient safety strategies, eliminating duplicate medical records, preventing patient fraud and medical identity theft, and lowering hospital or healthcare system liability risks, more medical facilities are evaluating and deploying biometric patient identification solutions to help ensure patient identification accuracy. Using biometrics for patient identification is a relatively new concept for healthcare, but biometric identification has been around for quite some time and is used effectively, safely, and securely in many other verticals like public safety, membership management, retail point of sale, banking, and workforce management.

Most of us know that the Joint Commission has listed improving the accuracy of patient identification as their #1 goal for patient safety every year since 2003. Recently, the Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons also listed improving the accuracy of patient identification as their #1 2012 national patient safety goal. All around the healthcare landscape, medical facilities, professional organizations, governmental regulatory agencies and even patients are increasingly tuned in to the importance of ensuring patient identification accuracy to maintain quality healthcare levels and medical record data precision.

Biometric Patient ID Technology: Is it the Future of Patient Access?Just how bad is the patient identification landscape across the healthcare industry? Without extolling too much on the safety problems and massive financial losses incurred through inaccurate patient identification, you can take a look at this Infographic which depicts the problems that inaccurate patient identification (as well as medical ID theft and fraud) has on the healthcare industry. Suffice to say that unless healthcare takes drastic steps to incorporate more secure patient identification protocols to help stem the tide of economic losses and precipitous drops in patient safety levels, the industry will not achieve many of the goals set forth from the shift to full scale electronic health care adoption and the dawn of health information exchanges.

It has been argued that antiquated methods of patient ID (insurance cards and dates of birth only, barcoded bracelets, etc.) are subject to fraud, more prone to errors and generally not viewed as secure methods of identification in a healthcare setting. In light of the fact that most hospitals still rely on these types of patient identification at each touch point along the chain of care, doesn’t it become a responsibility for healthcare facilities to investigate and evaluate alternative, more modern methods of patient identification to help protect patient safety and reduce liabilities? There are more efficient, secure, and streamlined methods of patient identification recently introduced to the healthcare market that have the ability to thwart some of the most pressing issues we discussed earlier, raising patient safety levels and helping to control the costs of healthcare.

Which brings us to using biometrics for patient identification. Setting aside the unrealistic biometric identification fantasy world that Hollywood movies have sensationalized in our heads, in actuality the technology is practical, affordable, and seamless to the medical facility and patient. In the absence of any healthcare industry patient identification standards, biometric identification technology has been proven to:

  • Prevent duplicate medical records and lower language barriers
  • Lower hospital or healthcare system liability risks by ensuring the right care is delivered to the right patient
  • Eliminate patient fraud
  • Streamline the patient identification process for increased efficiency
  • Reduce patient check-in times per visit increasing satisfaction

There are even certain biometric patient identification systems that rely on contactless hardware (iris biometrics for example) to eliminate direct patient contact with any device, maintaining a hygienic healthcare environment. The challenge for hospitals when evaluating what type of biometric identification system to invest in is to ask the right questions during the due diligence process. Several articles have been written and resources developed to guide hospitals during their vetting process, helping to guide decision makers in the right direction and offer a fair evaluation of the solutions on the market. The key for healthcare is to understand the technology and how different biometric patient identification systems can integrate with their EHR/EMR.

Lest we forget the burgeoning presence of healthcare information exchanges (HIEs) and their effect on patient care, biometric patient identification systems are now proving they have the ability to help solidify data integrity in master patient indexes as more information is shared across networks. Organizations like the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) have openly written about the importance of establishing patient identity best practices as an integral precursor to participation in distributing and sharing health data across HIEs. Using biometrics for patient identification fits deftly into the overall patient data integrity matrix, and some biometric modalities are even independently tested and certified by third party organizations standardizing patient medical record data and injecting confidence for patients and providers that the information they review is accurate.

As we turn the page to the next chapter of health IT as the driving force behind the modernization of the industry, it’s important to understand and familiarize yourself with the host of patient identification technologies in the market. For biometric patient identification systems, the time is now.


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