Hospital Turns to Palm Reading to ID Patients

New York University's Langone Medical Center said it is the first hospital in the Northeast to use a biometric infrared scanning system that converts a digital palm image into a unique patient ID.

The technology, called PatientSecure is a biometric reader that uses an infrared light to map an image of the blood-flow pattern through the veins in a person's palm. That digital image is then converted into a unique patient ID that can be used with the medical center's electronic health record (EHR) system.

A hand on the infrared image scanner

The technology has been deployed at about 10 other U.S. hospitals.

NYU Langone piloted the palm-scanning technology last month at its Internal Medicine Associates faculty group practice. Patients are offered an opt-in clause to use the technology. Since going live last week, more than 5,000 patients have agreed to use PatientSecure.

"Vein patterns are 100 times more unique than fingerprints," said Dr. Bernard A. Birnbaum, senior vice president of hospital operations at NYU Langone. "As a result, PatientSecure provides a safe, secure, easy and fast way for our patients to register for care at the medical center. It not only protects privacy and enhances quality, but will transform the patient experience."

Research shows that patient identification errors are not uncommon , and the failure to correctly identify a patient can result in serious treatment errors. At Langone, two or more patients share the same first and last names more than 125,000 times.

With the new biometric scanning technology, a patient places his or her hand on a small black box and a unique identifying palm portrait automatically registers and accesses his or her electronic health record, reducing the chances of misidentification and minimizing the need to present other identifying information such as a driver's license or Social Security number, after initial enrollment.

The unique blood vessel image created by the infrared scanner

The medical center said using the scanner has streamlined what can be a cumbersome registration process by automatically pulling up a patient's records. It also provides additional security because patients no longer need to share personal identifying information.

If a patient without identification arrives at the medical center unconscious or unable to communicate, the biometric scanner automatically brings up the patient's medical record and alerts healthcare workers to the patient's medical history, allergies and medications.

"This technology makes you feel like a VIP. You just put your palm on the scanner and you're done registering at your doctor's office, no clipboard, no hassle of paperwork to check in, plus, it's absolutely secure," said Michael Baldwin, 55, a patient at NYU Langone, in a statement. "It's immediate and instantaneous. Never in my life have I experienced health care like this before. NYU Langone's 100% integrated healthcare system is like a small city that's all connected."

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com .

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