Case Study: Palm Scans for Patient ID

Biometric authentication helps avert duplicate records
Case Study: Palm Scans for Patient ID
For Holy Name Medical Center, the solution to the problem of creating multiple, partial electronic health records for the same patient was in the palm of their hands.

In March, 361-bed community hospital in the Teaneck, N.J., started using palm scanning technology to authenticate patient identity. The scanners, from Fujitsu Ltd., uses near-infrared light to capture a palm vein pattern.

This extra authentication step points registrars directly to the patient's existing records number, helping the hospital avoid making the mistake of creating a new, partial record. That, in turn, improves patient safety by ensuring clinicians have access to a complete record of all care, says Michael Skvarenina, assistant vice president of information technology.

The hospital, which has developed much of its own software, including EHRs, chose the palm technology, in large part, because Fujitsu was willing to provide a software development kit to go with the scanning devices. That way, the medical center could build its own customized version, Skvarenina says.

"It was an inexpensive device that we were able to write code for," he says. "This was an easy fit."

Some observers expect many healthcare organizations will consider biometric authentication for patients as they ramp up their use of electronic health records. In addition to palm scanning, some organizations are using iris recognition systems for patient authentication.

How it works

At Holy Name Medical Center, when a registrar signs in a patient, they ask for their date of birth or the last four digits of their Social Security number and then use a portable palm scanner to detect the vein pattern and match it to a database of scans. By combining the scan with the other information, the technology can make a positive ID more quickly than if only the scan was used, Skvarenina says.

The palm scanners also make it far easier to deal with the issue of multiple patients with identical names, he adds. The technology helps caregivers to "avoid looking up the wrong record and making the wrong decision."

Plus, the hospital anticipates the palm scanners will make it far more difficult for someone lacking insurance to use the identity of an insured patient to fraudulently obtain coverage.

Patient resistance

In the early weeks of using the system, Holy Name Medical Center discovered that some patients were refusing the scans when they were presented as an option for identification because the technology was unfamiliar and appeared intrusive. "So rather than ask whether they want to enroll in the palm scan system, we present it as a requirement. If they ask why, we explain it to them."

Eventually, when its database of palm scans grows, the hospital hopes to use the biometric technology in its emergency department, where it could help identify unconscious patients.

But when it comes to authenticating the identity of physicians and nurses accessing EHRs, the hospital has chosen to rely on proximity cards, ID badges that validate their identities as they approach a computer equipped with a reader. "The proximity badges are better because they are much simpler than biometrics," Skvarenina says. Staff members use the badges for time and attendance as well as to access clinical systems.


About the Author

Howard Anderson

Howard Anderson

News Editor, ISMG

Anderson is news editor of Information Security Media Group and was founding editor of HealthcareInfoSecurity and DataBreachToday. He has more than 40 years of journalism experience, with a focus on healthcare information technology issues. Before launching HealthcareInfoSecurity, he served as founding editor of Health Data Management magazine, where he worked for 17 years, and he served in leadership roles at several other healthcare magazines and newspapers.




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