Healthcare Tech

Biometrics could help solve healthcare’s $6b problem

The healthcare biometrics market is predicted to hit $78.4 billion by 2030.
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· 3 min read

You may want to triple check that you’re looking at the right patient’s medical records.

Turns out mixing up medical records is a common problem that costs the US healthcare system roughly $6 billion per year, according to Black Book Research.

Electronic health records (EHR) are usually matched up using data like a birthdate or address, but formatting differences can result in mismatches, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts. Life events can also introduce new discrepancies, as patients change their names or move.

But you know what’s likely to never change over a patient’s lifetime? A fingerprint. That’s why health systems are using biometrics more often to make sure providers look at the right patient records before treatment begins.

Biometrics on the rise

The use of biometrics in hospitals isn’t very common yet, according to Julia Skapik, chief medical information officer at the National Association of Community Health Centers, a trade group. But a boom in use is on the rise, with the healthcare biometrics market projected to be valued at $78.4 billion by 2030.

Louisiana-based Terrebonne General Medical Center began using RightPatient, a biometric patient identification platform, to match up patients’ medical records in 2015, and Harris Health System in Harris County, Texas, started using palm scanners for the same purpose in 2011, according to the Houston Chronicle.

These authentication systems collect and store biometric data—like images of a patient's fingerprint, face, palm, or iris—to verify identity. Facial imaging is the best option for hospitals, according to Pew, because it’s contactless and relatively cheap compared to fingerprint or iris scanners. Plus, a lot of people are used to using facial imaging to open their phone these days.

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However, for biometric tech to really be useful in healthcare, it needs to be interoperable between health systems—and so far there are no known health systems that are able to share biometric data, according to Pew.

Safety concerns

Patient data stored in an EHR is vulnerable to cyberattacks without a robust IT security system to protect the personal information. And according to Pew, safeguarding biometric data is even more important because, once exposed via hacking, it cannot be simply changed like a password.

But Skapik said she doesn’t think biometric data is at any more risk than other personal information stored in health records.

Protected health information and personal identifiable information are “much easier to take advantage of,” Skapik said.

That includes information like a patient’s Social Security number and date of birth. Hackers can use that kind of data to steal a patient’s identity, but it’s harder to use biometric data, Skapik said. “If I was the decision maker, I would consider biometrics equivalent or less, in terms of concern,” she said.

Regulatory action needed

Leaders from health systems, insurers, EHR vendors, and others surveyed by Pew agreed that while biometric technology can be a useful tool for health systems, it should still be used in conjunction with data like an address or Social Security number to match up patient records.

They also agreed that national standards need to be set to allow for interoperability between health systems.

“There are regulatory uncertainties that make people hesitant to invest heavily in [biometrics-based systems] right now,” Skapik said.

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