Hayes' Healthcare Blog

Is Biometric Identification the Answer to Patient Data Integrity Issues?

Posted by Leala M. Williams on August 23, 2017 at 9:00 AM

Long gone are the days of standalone demographic and paper medical record files in a physician office.  A Clinical-IT-Blog.pngpatient’s record is now digital and likely exists in multiple hospitals, physician offices, and other ancillary services across cities, states, and countries.  Patients can now access their own records online to view medical results, schedule appointments, request prescription refills, and manage their medical claims.

Despite the sharp rise in dependency on electronics and technology in today’s healthcare industry, ensuring accurate patient identification is still a challenge.  Mismatched patients are the primary cause of data integrity issues and has various causes – from human error to disparate electronic health record (EHR) systems, multiple visits for multiple reasons with multiple providers, etc. In the end, some things just get complicated. The AHIMA reported that 8 - 12% of all patients have a duplicate medical record.

Even with the technology of today, a patient’s identity is commonly confirmed verbally. A patient’s demographic data such as name, date of birth, gender, and social security number are indexed by assigning an MPI (Master Patient Identifier) to each person.  Other validation options have been introduced over time including photo identification, the use of wristbands, and patient smart cards.  Some organizations have implemented software using algorithms to help identify and link duplicate records.   

Looking at the healthcare industry today, we see new shared technology constantly being introduced.  The overall goal is to integrate the patient’s digital data so it can be linked, stored, retrieved, and shared with a few strokes of your fingertips. The success of the technology is dependent upon its optimization, which includes accurate patient records. Organizations with multiple integrated EHR’s or who provide high volume emergency or inpatient services see a higher risk of occurrence.  But in order to address how to resolve these issues, we must first look at their causes.

Here are two major risk factors that create mismatched records:

  1. How a patient’s last and middle names are presented in the healthcare system
  2. Identity theft especially in emergency situations

These risk factors generate record management issues such as overlays, duplication of patient records, medical risk for treatment errors along with lost revenue and increased administrative costs for healthcare organizations. As a healthcare professional who wants to ensure data integrity and an optimized health system, how to reduce or hopefully resolve these issues is a pressing question.

The time has come to introduce a new generation of patient identification processing using biometric identification. A patient can now be identified by who they are instead of what they communicate. Biometric identification is the use of technology that scans and creates a unique biometric template that is stored digitally and linked to a patient’s MPI.  The system will not allow a duplication of the biometric template into its database.  Therefore there is always a single linked patient.  If a possible duplication is attempted, the system can immediately notify the user of the existing entry.

Examples of biometric identification used in healthcare organizations throughout the world may include:

  • Thumbprint or fingerprint scan
  • Retina scan
  • Iris recognition
  • Palm vein scan

How does a biometric system work?

The biometric data is normally stored separately from the healthcare organization database.  To initiate a biometric scan, the patient is normally identified within the individual organization’s EHR.  Once the patient is confirmed, a digital message is sent to the biometric system to create a record in their database and is then linked to the master patient identifiers like patient name, date of birth, and gender.  The patient’s scan is performed by the biometric software and converted to a digital number which is linked to the patient MPI and stored only in the biometric system.  The scan or biometric data is never stored or retrievable in the healthcare organizations system so as to reduce the chances of compromised information. MPI updates of the patient identifiers are normally interfaced to the biometric system only to ensure the records are synchronized. 

Motivation for implementing

Market Research Engine reported that biometric identification usage in healthcare will undergo a CAGR of 19% by 2022. Healthcare providers know that accuracy of a patient’s identification is critical and understand the disadvantages of incorrect patient identification. Accurate management of a patient’s record not only impacts treatment and their health but also the overall cost of healthcare. 

Here are just some of the benefits healthcare organizations would realize from implementing biometrics:

  1. Patient Engagement:
    1. Streamline registration/check-in process
    2. Provide accurate clinical intake
    3. Reduce medical identify theft
  1. Patient Safety and Hardship
    1. Reduce inefficient emergency room treatment
    2. Improve medication management
    3. Eliminate incorrect surgeries
    4. Eliminate blood transfusion errors
  1. Financial Implications
    1. Reduction in insurance fraud
    2. Reduction in billing rejections
    3. Eliminate loss of revenue due to data integrity issues
    4. Reduction in cost of record management

Implementation Suggestions

Healthcare organizations that have already implemented biometric information as a way of keeping accurate patient records agree that communication is key.  Start preparing your patients by letting them know the change is coming.  This is also a good time to explain the benefits of implementing such a program.  Having accurate records not only cuts down on incorrect billing, but also should be a benefit that comes with using that particular healthcare organization.  The last and most important thing to communicate is that using biometric identification systems will ensure proper healthcare treatment and diagnoses, which, in the end, what both patient and provider want.  Here is a quick checklist to get you started implementing using a biometric identification system at your organization:

  1. Communicate benefits with postings and fact sheets
    • Include how the new system will improve their health safety
    • Explain how the system provides protection against fraud and compromised sensitive patient information
    • Share information on the scan itself to help patients understand its benefits:
      1. The scan is only used to create a completely individualized number for the patient so as to link to their patient record
      2. The scan cannot be duplicated and is not saved in the organization’s individual EHR so as to reduce risk of compromised data
    • Like any new technology there will be patients that will question or balk at the process. Patients’ concerns may range from sharing the data with other types of institutions, religious beliefs, or personal invasion of privacy. Facilities can embrace these few exceptions and still prosper from the majority. 
  2. Conduct enrollment fairs
    • Hold employee enrollment classes and forums so as to gather employee identification. This is also a good opportunity to educate the staff on the scan so they can feel confident in communicating with the patients.
    • Hold patient social fairs. Similar to employee enrollment classes. These patient fairs are a good way to gather a large volume of patients to educate and enroll them at one time into the biometric identification system.
  3. Implement in high volume patient areas first
    • Common high patient areas include the emergency room, primary care clinics, and general medicine clinics.

When considering the potential for duplicated or incorrect patient records within today’s digital healthcare environment, it’s becoming more and more critical to have accurate patient identification methods.  Knowing the risks and causes for such discrepancies can help you understand why using a biometric identification system may help you avoid costly billing errors, misdiagnoses, and incorrect treatment.  

To learn more information on how to sucessfully implement change within your organization, download our white paper, 5 Steps to Healthcare Change Management.


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Topics: EHR, data integrity

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