As healthcare becomes increasingly more complex, nurses must maintain the competencies necessary to deliver high-quality care. This includes the ability to respond appropriately to new technologies, which may have the potential to change nursing practice and/or nursing education. As patient advocates and frontline caregivers, nurses must ensure that new technologies support and enhance the human element in healthcare.
Biometrics is the science of measuring an individual’s unique physical traits for identification purposes. 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. The Biometrics Research Group estimates that the global marketplace for biometrics technologies in the healthcare market alone will reach $5 billion by 2020, driven by the need to prevent fraud, protect patient privacy, and improve safety.
Nurses can expect to start using biometric log-in procedures (if they aren’t already) to access the EMR, as hospitals move away from passwords, which can be used in unauthorized ways if they are shared or written down in an unsecure location. HIPAA calls for a tiered approach to data access, meaning that staff members should only have access to the information they need to perform their jobs. Biometrics can be effectively employed to regulate this access to data, as well as access to secure areas. For example, replacing smart badges with biometric scanners at physical access points can help guarantee the safety of newborns and prevent the theft of narcotics, by making a positive identification of people rather than badges.
Biometric computer log-ins can also improve workflow efficiencies for nurses. For example, many EMR systems automatically time out, 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 may prove to be even more efficient—a facial scanner on top of a computer monitor can log nurses in as soon as they sit down at the work station and log them out as soon as they move away.
There is growing interest within both the healthcare and health insurance industries for using biometrics for patient identification purposes. 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 fingerprints are stored with the donor’s profile, allowing staff to quickly pull up blood type and donation history on subsequent visits. And in Florida, a bill was introduced this year that would require all hospitals in the state to use biometrics to verify the identity of all Medicaid patients. (However, this move has been criticized as an effort to further stigmatize the poor.) At some point, biometrics may replace patient wristbands and barcodes as identifiers when nurses are administering medication at the bedside. And there has been at least one proposal to track childhood immunization records with a fingerprint recognition system.
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 is saved into the same patient record. It can also improve our capacity to react to medical emergencies, since patients who are unconscious or unable to talk can still be quickly identified – along with pertinent medical history like drug allergies and current medications.
Consumers are becoming more comfortable with the idea of biometric security features, since so many mobile devices now have fingerprint sensors. Supporting the use of biometric technologies and using them according to hospital policy is yet another way nurses can advocate for their patients’ privacy and safety.
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