Are Biometrics Tools Practical For Hospital Use?

Posted on February 21, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

In theory, using biometrics tools could solve some of the hospitals’ biggest data management problems.

For example, if the patient had to register for treatment when seeking care at a hospital emergency department (something I saw in place at my local hospital), it would presumably cut down medical identity fraud substantially. Also, doing patient matching using biometric data could make the process far more precise and far less error-ridden. When implemented correct it can achieve these goals.

In addition, requiring hospital employees to use biometric data to access patient records would lock down those records more tightly, and would certainly make credential sharing between employees far more difficult.

Unfortunately, hospitals that want to use biometric technology have to overcome some major obstacles. According to an article by Dan Cidon, CTO of NextGate, those obstacles include the following:

  • Biometric solutions need to be integrated with primary hospital systems, and that process can be difficult.
  • Most biometric solutions can only manage a subset of patients, which makes it difficult to scale biometrics at an enterprise level.
  • Standard biometric solutions like palm vein and iris scanners demand highly-specialized standalone hardware.
  • Bringing biometrics in-house demands significant server-side hardware and internal infrastructure, bringing the total cost to one that even major health systems might balk at.

On the other hand, Cidon notes, some of these issues can be minimized.

Take the problem of acquiring and maintaining specialized devices. To bypass this issue, Cidon recommends that hospitals try using lower-impact solutions like facial recognition, commodity technology built into patient smartphones. By relying on patient smartphones, hospitals can offload enrollment and registration to patient-owned devices, which not only simplifies deployment but also increases user comfort levels.

He also notes that by using a cloud-based approach, hospitals can avoid allocating a high level of server-side hardware and infrastructure to biometrics, as well as getting added flexibility and affordability, especially if they leverage commodity hardware to do the job.

Even if hospitals act on Cidon’s recommendations, going biometric for patient matching, security and medical identity theft protection will be a major project. After all, hospitals’ existing IT infrastructure almost certainly wasn’t designed to support these solutions and putting them in place effectively will probably take a few iterations.

Still, if putting biometric solutions in place can address critical safety and operational issues, especially dangerous patient record mismatches, it’s probably worth a try.