Biometrics as a Security Measure in Health Care

Many consumers became acquainted with biometric security measures last year, when Apple added a fingerprint sensor to its popular iPhone. Although it was once considered the realm of science fiction, biometric technologies are now being considered by industries like banking and health care, as a way to meet the dual demands of data security and physical security.

Switching to biometric security measures can help prevent medication errors and reduce billing fraud while opening up analysis roles in health care and IT.

Biometrics can be defined as the science of identifying people through a physical characteristic. It includes technologies that can differentiate people by analyzing a fingerprint, palm print, retina scan, voice patterns or facial structure. These technologies have been around for nearly three decades, but industry analysts predict they are poised for explosive growth in the next few years, as costs come down, accuracy improves and public acceptance increases.

Nurses may soon be using biometric log in procedures to access digitized patient information, as hospitals begin to move away from passwords, which can be used in unauthorized ways if they are shared or written down in an unsecure location. Many EMR systems will automatically timeout, forcing nurses to log on repeatedly throughout the shift. Imagine how much time you could save if you could log in and out simply by touching your fingertip to a sensor or laying your hand down on a scanner. Facial recognition technologies can be even more efficient – a facial scanner on top of a computer monitor can log you in as soon as you sit down at the workstation and log you out as soon as you move away.

Nurses who currently use smart badges to gain access to secure areas or supply cabinets may also find their facilities are switching to biometric security measures. Such measures can help guarantee the physical safety of newborns and prevent the theft of narcotics, by making a positive identification of people rather than badges.

In the future, the health care and health insurance industries may rely on biometrics for patient identification purposes as well. Blood banks are beginning to use fingerprint scans of donors to help them comply with federal regulations that require positive identification at every donation. The blood bank in this case study says it less frequently has to turn away donors without proper ID. It has also reduced the likelihood of duplicate donor records and has been able to stop storing Social Security numbers, a practice that consumers increasingly object to.

Other potential benefits of identifying patients through biometrics include:

  • Preventing medication errors. Biometrics can potentially replace patient wristbands and barcodes as identifiers when nurses are administering medication at the bedside.
  • Reducing billing fraud. Biometric identification can be used instead of paper insurance cards, to prevent a common type of fraud that occurs when one patient poses as another to obtain insurance benefits. It can also deter unscrupulous providers from filing phantom claims, because a biometric scan offers proof of a patient’s physical presence at a health care facility.
  • Improving the capacity to react to medical emergencies. With a fingerprint or palm scan, patients who are unconscious or unable to talk can still be quickly identified – along with pertinent medical history like drug allergies and current medications.
  • Furthering the state of health information exchange (HIE). When digitized patient information is shared regionally and across providers, accurate patient identification is crucial. When multiple records exist for the same patient, there’s a strong likelihood that one or all will be incomplete – potentially putting the patient at risk for drug interactions or inappropriate services. Biometric patient identification can eliminate the need for patients to fill out multiple forms at each provider visit, and ensure that all data are saved into the same patient record.

Are you a tech-savvy nurse? Health care is in need of nurses who can analyze technologies from both the bedside and IT perspectives, to help create patient-centric tools. An online MSN degree in nursing informatics is the perfect way to improve your knowledge, skills, and value to your organization.