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The right patient

Biometric technology helps identify and protect patients


Editor’s note: The name of the patient featured has been changed to protect privacy.

Imagine finding yourself in the hospital without remembering how you got there. That happened a few weeks ago when Jane Smith was rushed to the hospital by emergency medical technicians in North Carolina. She was disoriented and had no identification.

“She didn’t know anything about herself,” said Stacey Hilton, a Novant Health patient access specialist. Hospital staff had reached out to local police and fire departments to see if anyone had been reported missing.

It was then that Hilton suggested using the biometric iris scanning camera to see whether the unidentified woman was in the Novant Health system. “And there was all her information: her name, address, medical history and emergency contact,” Hilton said. Her husband was immediately contacted.

Novant Health is in the process of enrolling patients using biometric cameras. Patients registering at hospitals now have pictures and iris scans taken that connect to their electronic medical record.

Patients turning up at the hospital without identification or unaccompanied by family or friends are rare, according to Chris Grunden, a Novant Health patient access manager. But in this instance, the technology did what it was supposed to. “If a patient comes in unconscious or disoriented, by scanning their eyes, we can get the right medical treatment to them right away,” Grunden said.

Novant Health began using biometric cameras at every register point in its hospitals in North Carolina in October 2013. “We are the largest system in the area using iris scanning technology,” said Craig Pergrem, senior director of patient access at Novant Health.

The hospital system largely decided to implement the system in order to protect patient identity, according to Pergrem. Unlike technologies such as thumb print and palm scanning, which rely on touch, the iris scanning requires no contact, so there is little concern about spreading germs.     

To date, Novant Health has enrolled nearly 300,000 patients, according to data provided by RightPatient, the manufacturer of the iris scanning cameras. Nearly 7,000 identifications are made each month using the technology. Identifications occur subsequent to the initial enrollment scanning.

In recent months, enrollment rose by 60 percent as more patients became educated about the technology, according to Pergrem. Most patients are happy to enroll, knowing they no longer have to provide a driver’s license or other identification – once they are reassured that the scan becomes part of their confidential medical record and won’t be shared with any third party, he added.

“The best benefit of the iris scanning camera is that it provides patient safety,” Pergrem said. “We can scan you and know we have the right person.”

But it’s also a great way to clamp down on patient identity theft, an issue impacting health organizations and insurance companies nationwide, he said.

The Ponemon Institute calls patient identity theft a growing problem. According to the institute’s estimates, 2.32 million Americans were impacted by medical identity theft in or before 2014, an increase of more than 21 percent from the previous year.

In addition, the study found that people affected by medical identity theft suffered substantial financial consequences. Sixty-five percent of those surveyed paid an average of $13,500 to resolve the crime. In fact, many patients paid out of their own pockets for services used by the thief. Some patients incur legal fees, see their credit score diminished and may actually receive inaccurate care at their provider’s office as a result of the theft.

The iris scanning technology also helps significantly minimize medical fraud because no one can assume a patient’s unique identity once he or she enrolls in the system.

Pergrem said Novant Health is looking at other ways to expand the use of the biometric cameras across its four-state footprint.





Published: 9/3/2015