Is Biometrics the Answer to Healthcare Data Integrity?

The rise of CPOEs, EHRs and HIEs

Although we are only at the threshold of full-scale healthcare electronic medical record adoption, there is rampant optimism about how digitizing health records will create massive efficiencies and significantly increase the quality of patient care. As more hospitals and healthcare systems migrate to computerized physician order entry and electronic health records, and more health information exchanges are built to coordinate care across networks, many are raising concerns about how to effectively manage data integrity to ensure it is kept free from corruption, modification or unauthorized access.

The proliferation of healthcare EHRs and the transition of data across HIEs opens the door to data corruption, and as these systems become larger and more complex, vulnerabilities grow. In most other industries, data integrity is just as important, but corruption errors can be rectified and mistakes fixed. In healthcare, it often becomes a matter of life or death.

Consistency and data integrity through positive patient ID

One of the primary concerns with maintaining data integrity is implementing a consistent approach across the HIE to matching patients with their data. Both physicians and patients have to trust and rely that data is complete, current, accurate and secure. Escalating the complexity of HIEs as more networks are added and more data is fed into the system will only necessitate a concentrated effort by the entire industry to produce common standards that foster confidence data stays intact. The ultimate solution to maintaining end-to-end data integrity doesn't originate from one company but must be a collective and cost-effective effort from all healthcare providers across the industry.

HIE data integrity and quality care originates with accurate patient identification. There is simply no other step in patient care that is more important within the modern healthcare construct  than precise patient identification to ensure that not only is the right care delivered to the right patient, but that medical records are up-to-date, accurate and properly linked across systems. The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society reported in a 2009 research study that, "A local system with a poorly maintained or 'dirty' master patient index will only proliferate and contaminate all of the other systems to which it links." 

Prior to the electronic health record digital revolution when closed healthcare systems weren't exposed to data sharing across networks, contaminated MPIs were isolated and may not have posed as big of a threat as they do now with increased information sharing that could potentially impact multiple providers across a larger number of networks.

Biometrics for patient identification

Many healthcare facilities are turning their attention to using biometrics for accurate patient identification ensuring the data they link to their EHR systems is attributed to the correct patient. Biometrics offers distinct advantages as an identification technology that fits deftly into the push for increased data integrity standards because certain modalities of the technology abide by data standardization guidelines set forth by government non-regulatory agencies. Iris biometric patient identification templates, for example, are compliant with National Institute of Standards and Technology standardization and have been extensively tested and certified as generic, shared data across disparate networks. This bodes well for healthcare facilities looking to establish "patient identity integrity" upon admission and during a patient's stay as the cornerstone of efforts to maintain reliable and authentic data throughout the networks they establish or join. Using biometrics at appropriate patient care touch points strongly supports healthcare patient identification protocols and helps to meet required regulatory and accreditation initiatives set forth by agencies like The Joint Commission.

Financial impact of healthcare biometrics

In addition to promoting healthcare data integrity, establishing identity integrity by using biometrics for patient identification can also save billions of dollars per year by drastically curtailing costs to the healthcare provider in correcting and mitigating errors. The Institute of Medicine"s 1999 report "To Err is Human" has often been credited with the modern day launch of the patient safety movement and conscientious efforts to quantify the cost of preventable medical errors. Since then, healthcare providers have increasingly placed a stronger emphasis on adopting technologies that increase patient identification accuracy, which constitutes one of the largest sources of preventable medical errors.

As more healthcare information exchanges seek harmonization of medical records across heterogeneous systems, patient identity integrity becomes even more critical to establish reliable enterprise master patient index networks. It only takes one system with dirty data to spread the infection to all others within its network and set off a chain reaction of preventable medical errors that could result in loss of life and devastating financial consequences for the healthcare industry. By establishing a unique biometric template linked to one medical record that not only provides positive identification but also prevents duplicate medical records and guards against medical identity theft, healthcare can begin to permanently plug one of the biggest leaking holes in the system.

It will require a concerted effort to inculcate the benefits of using biometrics for patient identification throughout the healthcare industry but it is clear that the benefits of establishing patient identification integrity at the first patient touch point will clearly have widespread positive repercussions for the entire industry.

John Trader is a public relations and marketing manager with M2SYS Technology, a recognized industry leader in biometric identity management technology. 

More Articles on Data Integrity:

Building a Robust, Sustainable Health Information Exchange: Case Study with Northeast Georgia Health System, HealtheConnect
ECRI Institute Analyzes Healthcare IT Systems, Patient Safety

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