Voice Biometrics, the Key to Simple and Secure Access to Health Information

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Current healthcare trends

With healthcare expenditures in the U.S. predicted to reach more than $4.0 trillion by 2017, recent healthcare reform and stimulus measures are desperately trying to reduce the cost. A key pillar in these measures is the encouragement and requirement of utilizing health information technology to drive greater cost efficiency, better care delivery and increasing patient responsibility for their own healthcare needs. While technology adoption in the U.S. healthcare industry has historically been slow, these reforms and incentives are driving the rapid compression of technology adoption cycles within the industry.

Correspondingly, industry analysts project rapid growth in the HIT vendor markets, with the overall market encompassing software, hardware and services growing at a compound annual growth rate of 24 percent and reaching a market size of more than $75 billion by 2014. The HIT software market, specifically, is expected to grow at a CAGR of more than 30 percent, with the total market size exceeding $15 billion by 2014. 

Examples, such as meaningful use requirements, other federal incentives for technology innovation and the proposed regulations for the creation of accountable care organizations and patient-centered medical homes are projected to contribute to a decrease in the national healthcare expenditure as a percentage of GDP through 2013. This decreasing trend line is, however, short-lived by the U.S. government's own calculations, indicating that these regulatory-fueled initiatives may only initiate the greater utilization of technology to address healthcare costs, but not result in the fundamental transformation that is required to achieve our common national objectives. 

To achieve a true transformation of the U.S. healthcare sector, one which is able to deliver meaningful cost savings, while simultaneously improving care delivery to the individual patient and across risk-bearing populations, it is imperative that long-term, sustainable collaborative care models become available to the market. Thus, collaboration means the sharing of relevant real-time information from those consuming and those delivering services across the care continuum. 

Associated risks of technology transformation

While the emphasis on technology as a tool to address the ills of the national healthcare system is to be commended, there are certain new risks and challenges that will emerge. Specifically, over the next several years these new collaborative models, such as patient-centered medical homes and accountable care organizations, are going to require more and more real-time and relevant information from all aspects of the care delivery system to be able to transform their culture from episodic, to preventive. These healthcare networks are rapidly cobbling together technologies from many different domains in ad hoc solutions not designed to integrate well in an attempt to share information. On top of that, the growth of the mobile health market has introduced hundreds of new vendors and solutions that wish to extend this integrated data to patients and providers anytime and anywhere.

This ecosystem fuels the ever increasing security threat facing patient data integrity. It is estimated that 1.5 million Americans fall victim to medical identity theft each year, a number that could be far greater since most victims do not realize their data has even been compromised until years later. Additionally, HHS released a study in February 2012 noting that there were 17 million breaches of patient information in 2011, (a 49 percent increase from 2010), according to a Factiva report, and 40 percent of those breaches were related to the theft or loss of mobile devices. With fraudsters only becoming more proficient at circumventing organizations' security measures and the increased use of smart devices for access to the information being supplied and required to support collaborative care models, the 40 percent of reported data breaches that is attributed to just mobile healthcare is only going to rise. Actions to ensure secure access and privacy of data need to be taken.

To minimize this threat, we must think outside of just more stringent HIPAA regulation and penalties, (which already have slowed the dissemination of health information exchange, for fear of reprisals that can reach up to $1.5 million per covered entity for even unknown loss of patient data), but include into this new technology ecosystem a more secure, user friendly process, for allowing access to information anytime, anywhere.

Utilizing voice biometrics to maintain patient data integrity

Biometrics is an intuitive fit into solving the growing issues of health data security. A biometric is something that is unique to an individual and cannot be replicated or copied. If a device is misplaced, even the most sophisticated fraudsters cannot gain access to data, because they are not that person. Voice biometric solutions in particular, are a natural and intuitive fit into the mobile health market for securing tablet and smartphone-based healthcare applications. Voice biometrics are able to demonstrate security compliancy by ensuring that only the designated person is accessing sensitive data, whether it be a provider remotely accessing their EMR through a tablet or a patient reviewing their lab results via an app on their smart phone.

With only a few seconds of interaction to authenticate, the use of voice biometrics frees up physicians and patients from having to remember passwords and PINs and verifies the person doing the accessing. Data privacy and regulatory compliance are assured while benefiting from the natural voice interface of the smart device. At the point of interaction the patient (or provider) can be identified not by what they know but, by who they are with a voice biometric.

How does the technology work

Voice biometrics is the technology behind voice (or speaker) verification, which in turn is an application of the core technology. The voice, as with other biometric characteristics, is unique to an individual as demonstrated by the fact that 358,400 bits of speaker characteristics per second are generated from each audio sample.

In voice biometrics, a physician (or patient) speaks an utterance (for example, he or she may say "1354") that is captured by the biometric system that then compares it to a previously stored voiceprint. This comparison process produces a score of how well the new utterance matches the stored voiceprint. If the score is high enough, the physician (or patient) is verified as being who they claim to be. The accuracy of this process is exceptional, allowing voice biometrics to even serve as digital signatures for e-prescribing and e-sampling with false accept rates in a statistical model under .01 percent. This means if a fraudster, with all the information of a provider's identity (user identification, email, etc.) were to try and access through the biometric, they have a 1 in 10,000 chance to get a one-time access to data. There is a less than 1 percent change of a person being falsely rejected when verifying, and that rate is mostly associated with environmental factors like very loud noise in the background at the point of verification or poor connectivity.

In application today, voice biometrics is one of the most effective and affordable biometrics solutions for a large, mobile, user base; proving that it is a major contender in the effort to cut healthcare expenditures and protect patient data integrity.

Travis True is the vice president of business development for VoiceVault. He focuses on increasing adoption of the VoiceVault biometric technology into the global commercial market. He brings with him over 10 years leadership experience in the acquisition, development and delivery of enterprise technology solutions and he has a wealth of experience delivering healthcare technology to some of the world’s most prestigious hospitals.

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