Healthcare News & Insights

More hospitals using fingerprint scans for patient ID

To identify patients, some hospitals are exploring the use of biometric technology – specifically fingerprint recognition. The approach has both benefits and drawbacks. 

Biometric technology is growing in popularity. At first, it was only seen in sci-fi movies. But now, this technology is common in several aspects of modern life.

For example, many companies use biometric timekeeping systems for payroll purposes. And some of the newest smartphones come equipped with the ability to identify users based on their fingerprints.

Now hospitals are jumping on the bandwagon, too.

Reasons for trend

Healthcare blog Future of You, published by KQED Science, discussed the trend in a recent post.

In the absence of a national healthcare identifier, which is used in many other countries to distinguish patients from each other, hospitals are scrambling to find an easier way to identify their patients.

It’s especially confusing to keep track of patients when they have multiple last names or change residences frequently.

To make identifying patients easier, facilities have started partnering with companies specializing in biometric fingerprint identity recognition. Specifically, the blog post mentions hospitals working with SafeChx, a system designed for the healthcare industry.

SafeChx links patients’ fingerprints to the personal information a hospital has on file for them, including their health records. The system is free of charge for hospitals to use. CrossChx, the company that created SafeChx, also sells various healthcare apps facilities can integrate with the system to enhance it.

Right now, 178 hospitals are using the SafeChx system, and most are small and medium-sized facilities. CrossChx plans to start marketing its system to larger, teaching hospitals soon.

Both sides of systems

Because biometrics are becoming more common, other systems besides SafeChx are sure to spring up soon.

Not only do they make it easier for hospitals to identify patients, supporters say biometric fingerprint identification is also an excellent way to guard against patient identity theft, as well as the “doctor shopping” that often happens with prescription pill addicts.

However, critics think biometric fingerprint identification systems can create more problems than they solve. Here’s why: Although it’s true that fingerprints are unique to each person, there’s still a possibility the system can be compromised.

If hackers figure out how to simulate a patient’s fingerprint, they’d have access to all the person’s protected health information. In that regard, it’s just like any method where a single factor is used for identification, such as password protection.

But unlike a password, which can be quickly changed if it’s stolen, a person’s fingerprint can’t be altered.

Protecting data

With that in mind, hospitals would need to make sure the information stored in their systems is effectively protected with methods such as encryption in case a data breach occurs. And facilities would need to have a different protocol in place to identify patients should their biometric identifying data be stolen.

There are alternatives to identifying patients via biometrics or through standard demographic information if this need arises. One example from the Future of You post: Kaiser Permanente is starting to keep a photograph of each patient on file in the medical record.

Whatever strategy your hospital uses to identify patients, internal security is still of utmost importance. Biometric fingerprint scanning technology means nothing if your network and IT infrastructure aren’t secure from outside threats.

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