Biometrics In Healthcare: Patients’ Safety And Privacy Are Improved

Health care has moved from paper medical records to electronic health records (EHR). Using EHRs to get patient information quickly can help with the following:

  • Information that is correct and up to date at the point of service
  • Care that is well-coordinated and effective
  • Safe sharing of patient information between doctors
  • fewer mistakes in medicine
  • Better ways to write prescriptions

But these properties depend on hospitals, doctors, and other healthcare facilities accurately verifying patients’ identities during all medical visits. Some healthcare institutions have considered this by moving away from identification based on biographics (name, date of birth, Social Security number, etc.) and toward biometrics, which is a more reliable form of ID.

Using the patient’s face, fingerprint, iris, or voice to identify them makes sure that the right people get care. This makes the global healthcare system safer and more effective.

Patient Misidentification: A Worldwide Problem

When a patient is wrongly identified, it hurts the quality of care, as well as the patient’s safety and well-being:

The most common reasons for wrongly identifying patients are:

  • Patient registration errors (64 percent).
  • When treating patients, there isn’t enough time (60 percent).
  • The system has duplicate medical records (30 percent).

Top reasons for wrongly identifying patients

The fact that people in the U.S. have Social Security numbers doesn’t help much. SSNs can be entered wrong, stolen, and used for fraud, and U.S. law doesn’t say how they should be used to identify patients.

Using biometrics for correct patient identification

Some people in healthcare have tried to improve patient identification by using third-party text-based matching algorithms that are fed demographic data like first and last identities, dates of birth, SSNs, and addresses. However, the success of these attempts has been all over the place.

What’s been missing from the equation are ways to identify people that can’t be argued with, like biometrics. Information can be given, taken, lost, made up, typed wrong, and copied. On the other hand, a face or fingerprint can only be used to identify one person. This makes things better for:

  • Master patient indexes that are cleaner
  • Fewer copies of health records
  • Less chance of giving care to the wrong person

Biometrics also work when a patient in a hospital or emergency clinic doesn’t have any way to prove who they are. In a sense, each patient is their ID.

Biometric Registration

The first step in a biometrics-based system is registering a patient, which means adding a patient’s identity. Biographic information, such as the patient’s fingerprint, face, iris, and voice, is collected during the patient registration process.

To stop a person from signing up twice, existing data is searched for a record that already exists. As part of this process, the quality and fit for biometric matching are checked. The data and records are put on a safe server if there are no duplicates. Fingerprints are a powerful way to use biometrics.

Facial recognition can also be utilized as a mode that a person can understand and capture with common tools like webcams and cell phones. Iris biometrics are also common because they work well and are easy for patients to use. Each biometric method has different pros and cons regarding performance, safety, cost, and ease of use.

Process: Biometric Identification

When a patient strolls into a medical facility, a biometric search can find their identity in the master patient index using their biometric information. This search will tell you with a high level of certainty if a record for that patient already exists. If a person can already register, medical staff can access their health records and provide better care faster.

This is especially helpful when a patient can’t prove who they are. The risk of making a second health record for a patient who already has one in the system is reduced, as is the chance of missing important medical information needed for treatment.

Biometric patient identification also catches people who try to get healthcare for free by lying about who they are. Biometric searches can find these kinds of attempts because they can tell when someone is trying to give a fake name.

Future Applications: Multi Factor Authentication

Passwords are a bad way to prove your identity because they are hard to remember, especially if you don’t use them very often. This is often the case when patients try to get to their health records. Biometric authentication can be used instead of a password to make access to electronic patient records safer and more convenient.

For example, biometrics can be employed as part of a multifactor authentication scheme that works outside the network. For example, when a patient tries to log in to the website of their healthcare provider, they can get a message on their cell phone that tells them to give their biometrics.

Logging in is only possible for a person with a smartphone, and they can use biometrics to prove who they are. This method could ensure a person picking up prescription medications at a pharmacy is who they say they are.

Future Uses: Telemedicine

The most immediate need for biometrics is better patient identification in healthcare facilities. But as healthcare changes, so will the different ways biometrics authentication can be used. Telemedicine, for example, is becoming a more common way to help people in remote or unserved medical areas get the care they need.

Biometric authentication could make logging into telemedicine portals safer and more convenient. A Canadian company that makes healthcare technology has already looked into using mobile drug dispensaries with biometrics. Face recognition lets these home devices give out drugs and track whether the prescription was taken as prescribed.

A slow but certain changes in healthcare

A survey by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that most patients would rather use biometrics than other ways to identify themselves.

  • fewer mistakes in medicine
  • Clinicians a full picture of their health
  • As a unique identifier, demographic information is less safe than a number.

Clinicians who participated in the survey said that biometrics is the most accurate way to identify people. Many companies already use biometrics to control who can get into their buildings and who can’t.

The main worry about biometrics is how they will be standardized and whether or not the government will actively promote their use. Still, it is almost certain that biometrics could be used to classify patients with close to 100 percent accuracy. Biometrics Research Group says that the market for biometric data in healthcare will grow worldwide.