Why biometrics authentication should be your hospital's next IT investment

Patient misidentification at hospitals poses a triple threat — and not the good kind. Rather, it can pose a serious risk to patient health and wellbeing, undermine patient satisfaction and create inefficiencies that lead to significant revenue loss.

Unfortunately, patient misidentification is still fairly common at hospitals. As many as 7 to 10 percent of patients are misidentified, according to data from Lexington, Mass.-based IT security company Imprivata.

Patient misidentification usually occurs as a result of a number of factors, according to Becky Carter, administrative director of clinical informatics and health information management at Bon Secours-St. Francis in Greenville, S.C., which is part of a $3.5 billion, 19-hospital nonprofit Catholic health system.

In a webinar hosted by Becker's Hospital Review and Imprivata, Ms. Carter explained that misidentification can be rooted in something as simple as human error — perhaps registration staff spells a patient's name incorrectly and creates a second chart — or it can be due to lack of proper identification if a patient forgets to bring an ID to the hospital. Misidentification is also increasingly a result of identity theft — something Ms. Carter said has happened 13 times in her market in the past year.

These mistakes result in duplicate records or medical overlays, when one or more patients are mistakenly sharing a medical record. In any case, "It can be life-threatening if serious mistakes are made," said Ms. Carter.

Carefully pulling apart patient charts to make sense of duplicate records or medical overlays also wastes money and manpower. "We have to get on a call with registration, the lab, radiology, IT — all the departments — to make sure the chart is pulled apart correctly and to make sure both patients' records are correct and intact," Ms. Carter said. She estimates nearly $500,000 is lost in her market alone in time spent by employees trying to pull apart mistakes stemming from misidentification.

And, as privacy and security are ever-growing concerns, identity theft and misidentification can lead to patient dissatisfaction — imagine receiving medical bills for services you never received.

"We want to tell our patients we are doing the best we can — not only from a health perspective, but also making sure they are secure," Ms. Carter said.

The solution is in your hands

For these reasons, Bon Secours-St. Francis decided to invest in palm-vein biometrics for positive patient identification.

The health system chose to use palm scanning because their patient population found it the least intrusive, according to Ms. Carter. She said fingerprinting connoted law enforcement and would set a bad tone in her market, and many did not like the thought of scanning their eyes. Instead, this biometric of choice takes a scan of a patient's palm vein pattern. No two palms are the same, even between twins, which eliminates any issues of misidentification. The scan is fast, accurate and also easy to maintain from an infection control standpoint, according to Ms. Carter.

"The workflow is simply that the patient will show up, scan their palm and registration will continue," Ms. Carter said. Noting the versatility of the technology, she added that the Greenville market is also able to use the scanners for bedside registration. The palm scanner simply fits into a USB port and does not require major implementation.

"All in all, it really did not slow us down," she said. "In the very beginning the slowest process is getting people registered. It's only a couple steps, but a couple steps they may not currently be doing. However, once patients are in [the system] the next visit is even faster."

The first step to implementation: Effective communication with staff and patients


To implement the biometric enterprise-wide, the health system enrolled staff-elected superusers from each department in onsite training with the Imprivata vendor. The training was very detailed, according to Ms. Carter, including how to troubleshoot if the scan doesn't work and how to train employees to explain the device to patients.

In fact, she said, the biggest part of implementing the scanners boiled down to communication, both to staff and patients. It was important for staff to understand how to properly use the scanners and for patients to understand that it is safe and provides more security, according to Ms. Carter.

"If you register the wrong person and tie a vein pattern to it, you defeated the purpose," she said. To help reduce error, Bon Secours-St. Francis requires patients to present a picture ID when they first register their vein pattern.

To help communicate the change to patients and the community, the health system's marketing department arranged interviews with local media. The story even ran on the front page of the local newspaper the day after the Superbowl, Ms. Carter said.

"We did this so patients would understand ahead of time why we were doing this [using palm scans] and that we were doing it for their safety," she said. "It went over pretty well in our community."

A strong return on investment

The scanners had a 99 percent acceptance rate, according to Ms. Carter. As of April 14, 2015 the system had 264,570 patients enrolled. Now a year after implementation, duplicate records are significantly reduced, though not completely wiped out. "Any issues I've had are employee-related and not software-related," Ms. Carter said. "You just have to go in and reeducate staff not to take shortcuts."

The technology has helped the health system do away with fraudulent billing. They are typically able to catch identity theft on the front end while the thief is still in the building, rather than having the victim of theft get a bill for services they didn't receive.

Ultimately, the biometric authentication process has significantly enhanced the patient experience at Bon Secours-St. Francis and the system now plans to rollout the system to its ambulatory offices and deploy self-serve kiosks in more markets.

"Patients have really appreciated the security and privacy protection that this has provided them and that we have put forth a great effort to try to protect them," Ms. Carter said.

To learn more, view the full webinar here. View archived webinars here.

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