Eyeprints Used To Avoid Mischarting
In an effort to better track medical records and avoid mischarting, Fresno’s Community Regional Medical Center has instituted a new eyeprint system, in which a camera captures images of a patient’s eye as an additional identifier. At the center, presenting a driver’s license or insurance card for proof of identity will soon become obsolete. Each time a patient registers, a quick snapshot using low-energy infrared light of his or her eye will be taken instead to match up the correct file.
The Fresno hospital system began using the new technology, called RightPatient, three months ago to avoid charting errors and it has been adding biometric devices to its registration desks at its regional medical center downtown, its Fresno Heart & Surgical Hospital and at its hospital in Clovis. The technology that was originally used as part of a pilot program is anticipated to be standard at most registrations sites by sometime in June. Iris recognition is becoming more common at hospitals as they have shift away from paper to electronic medical records. Hospital executives see the technology as a tool to speed up registration, prevent expensive medical chart mix-ups, reduce charting errors and protect against identity fraud.
Consumer advocates and law experts have shown concerns over patient privacy, however, and feel the technology could subject patients to cyber threats. “Biometric identification of patients is not a cure for medical identity theft,” said Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum in San Diego. “There are known and well-established risks in biometric systems and those risks can be exploited by bad actors who can gain access to the system.” However, Judi Binderman said that hospitals have taken sufficient precautions to guard against such threats, including ensuring that eyeprints are not stored on hospital’s computer servers. RightPatient co-founder Michael Trader seconds her sentiments, stating “We’re not storing any data in our system that puts the patient at risk.” This includes not logging social security numbers or unencrypted demographic data.
There is never a guarantee that computers will not be hacked and sensitive information shared, and cleanup can be time consuming and costly to remediate. Not to mention, the patient runs risk of being completely misdiagnosed and treated for the wrong ailments. And, there have been patients who have died because of chart mix-ups. Dixon said patients are concerned about biometric identity theft, and rightly so. But, she comments, “You cannot just get another iris.” Dixon said patients should ask to see a hospital’s notice of privacy practices and review the policy regarding biometric identification. “Don’t get flustered if you do not want to give your biometric to a health-care provider.” At this time, biometric identification remains optional.
It’s not known how often patient identification errors occur, but researchers at a nonprofit patient safety group, ECRI Institute, examined 7,613 cases of patient charting errors at 181 organizations that occurred between January 2013 and August 2015. The cases were submitted voluntarily. They determined ninety-one percent of the errors were caught before the patient was harmed. With RightPatient, hopefully they can avoid these errors altogether. Community Medical Centers spends about $190,000 every year to research and correct mismatched charts.