In a growing number of U.S. medical centers, registering a patient or calling up a patient’s medical record is as easy as placing a hand on a sensor.
Hospitals and health systems nationwide are increasingly adopting biometric technologies—systems that use physical traits, such as fingerprints or the pattern of veins in the palm—to confirm a patient’s identity and thereby further enhance patient safety.
“The biggest problem we face in medical informatics is the identification of the patient,” says Raymond D. Aller, MD, director of informatics in the Department of Pathology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles. “Our traditional identifiers are just not good enough. Every day, in every large city in the U.S., specimens are collected from the wrong patient, testing is run, and the patient is treated based on results that belong to someone else. These are preventable errors.”
Hence the growth of the biometrics arena, which, according to the consulting and research services firm Frost & Sullivan, is driven largely by systems for fingerprint, voice, face, and iris recognition, with palm vein, retinal scan, and signature verification on the rise. The global health care biometrics market is anticipated to experience a 32.8 percent compound annual growth rate from 2011 to 2017. This means it will reach $757.1 million in sales revenue in 2017, according to the Frost & Sullivan report “Strategic Analysis of the Global Healthcare Biometrics Market,” released in April. A jump in biometric product deployments between 2008 and 2010, for which medical facilities are starting to show a strong return on investment, adds credibility to the marketplace and is expected to further boost momentum, the report says.
Also facilitating market growth are new standards by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and by the International Organization for Standardization in conjunction with the International Electrotechnical Commission. The NIST standard allows mobile Web devices, such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones, to communicate with biometric sensors. The ISO/IEC standard focuses on ensuring the safety and privacy of biometric data online.
“I see the fingerprint becoming what our Social Security card was in the past,” says Scott Mahnken, vice president of Bio-key International, a developer of fingerprint biometric identification technology. Fingerprint biometrics, he explains, “eliminate the need for patients or donors to carry ID cards or remember unique identification numbers.”
Business at Bio-key is “in expansion mode,” says Mahnken, thanks in large part to growth of the electronic medical records marketplace, which is fueling the popularity of biometrics. The company reported a 51 percent jump in net income for the first quarter of 2012 compared to a year ago, with its fingerprint technology for patient and employee identification used by hundreds of hospitals and a growing number of blood centers. Bio-key recently launched new Web-based fingerprint apps for the iPhone, iPad, and Android platforms.
Patients enrolled with Bio-key place a fingertip on a sensor or swipe a finger across a sensor to capture an image of their fingerprint. Bio-key software then enhances the image, using 43 patented image-processing filters, and extracts 1,500 to 2,000 unique data points and features to create a mathematical model and personal template.
“The technology can be leveraged throughout the patient’s stay in the hospital, not just at registration,” says Mahnken. “In a bedside and lab testing environment, for example, a patient fingerprint can be checked to prevent misidentification.”
A newer biometrics technology, palm vein authentication, is also seeing tremendous growth in health care. Developed by Fujitsu, the technology debuted at the University of Tokyo Hospital in 2005. Today, the company’s palm vein scanner, called PalmSecure, is being used by a network of health care information technology integrators, including HT Systems. PalmSecure works with HT Systems’ PatientSecure solution, which links patients’ palm vein patterns to their medical records. PatientSecure has been adopted by more than 130 U.S. hospitals and is expected to have been used in more than 10 million patient enrollments by the end of this year. The PalmSecure scanner component of the system captures the unique pattern of veins in the hand using near-infrared light. It creates a digital template that represents the specific vein pattern.
Hospitals are interested in connecting PalmSecure to their electronic medical record systems, says Christer Bergman, vice president of biometrics solutions at Fujitsu Frontech North America. Duke University Health System hospitals started using the product last year to register patients for inpatient and outpatient care.
But using palm vein authentication technology for patient registration is just the tip of the iceberg, says Bergman. The future, he continues, holds numerous possibilities for self-service kiosks at check-in, applications to verify physician identity, and systems to prevent health care fraud.
The George Washington University Hirsh Health Law and Policy Program has launched www.healthinfolaw.org, a Web site to help health care professionals and others understand federal and state laws governing how health care information can be accessed, used, released, and published.
Visitors to the site, which was developed with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, can conduct cross-state comparisons of statutes and compare state and federal laws on specific health information issues relevant to health care information technology, public health, health care insurance, and other areas of the medical marketplace.
Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics has enhanced its CentraLink data-management system with functionality to synchronize automation workflow and expand connectivity.
CentraLink version 14 provides expanded connectivity to multiple lab information systems and the Bio-Rad Unity system. It detects if an instrument connected to an automation track is offline and will automatically re-route samples to another available instrument. An automated sample-status feature tracks arriving samples in real time. Also new are quality control alerts that flag quality controls set to expire. CentraLink version 14 can be customized per end user.
CentraLink serves as a single communication link between the laboratory information system, lab instruments, automation systems, and multiple users within the central lab or across locations.
Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics
The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology has released an instructional guide to help physicians, information technology staff, and other health care professionals strengthen privacy and security practices.
The 47-page document, “Guide to Privacy and Security of Health Information,” addresses numerous aspects of privacy protection, including cybersecurity, risk-analysis and management, workforce education and training, and patients’ rights.
The document offers common sense reminders and step-by-step plans for protecting privacy, as well as a listing of education and training resources, including Web sites, brochures, videos, and fact sheets.
The guide was developed in cooperation with the American Health Information Management Association Foundation. It is available at www.health it.gov/providers-professionals/ehr-privacy-security.
Data Innovations has introduced version 8.12 of its Instrument Manager middleware system.
The new version’s rules-engine syntax offers “else” conditions, as well as traditional “if/then” statements, and support for other message types.
Users can develop criteria to evaluate and take action on every data element in the system. They can create additional custom patient, specimen, and test-level data elements.
Enhanced hematology workflow in version 8.12 allows users to view multiple runs of analyzer results side by side and has streamlined the processes for releasing and rejecting hematology results or rerunning the testing.
Dr. Aller is director of informatics in the Department of Pathology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hal Weiner is president of Weiner Consulting Services, LLC, Florence, Ore. He can be reached at email@example.com.