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Palm scanners enhance patient safety

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   By Neil Hansen, August 2012

Iowa’s Broadlawns Medical Center integrated the biometric system with its registration process.

Broadlawns Medical Center needed a solution that would reinforce patient safety, secure the registration process and prevent identify theft. But in transforming registration through palm vein scanning, they unexpectedly realized a considerable return on investment and became one of only a handful of U.S. hospitals employing this technology.

The Des Moines, Iowa, medical center had experienced issues in which relatives either shared insurance cards or used another person’s patient information. To help protect Broadlawns and comply with the “Red Flags Identity-Theft Rule” mandated by HIPAA, senior executives looked for a solution that would work with their current electronic health record (EHR).

“Our goal was twofold,” says Trent Lienau, senior systems analyst. “When registering patients, we needed a method for authenticating identification, and to help ensure the right care was being provided to the right patient.”

That’s when the hospital’s search committee – made up of members from IT, patient intake and registration and senior leadership – first saw Fujitsu’s palm vein scanner as part of a biometric authentication system. “We couldn’t find a comparable product that created a one-to-one relationship with a patient and a medical record,” says Lienau.

Lienau worked closely with the vendor’s programmer during the four-month implementation process. Using third-party scripting software, Broadlawns then integrated the biometric system with its registration process.

“Now, when registration staff enrolls a new patient, the scripting software grabs the patient’s name, date of birth and medical record number. The patient then rests his or her palm on the scanner, which illuminates their unique vein pattern with a harmless, near-infrared light. Using a biometric template, the scanner runs the vein pattern through an algorithm and stores the patient’s identifying information in an SQL database,” explains Lienau.

When the patient returns to Broadlawns for subsequent care, registration staff asks for the date of birth and the patient scans his/her palm. The vein-scanning system matches the patient’s identification to the pattern and scripts the information back to the EHR to begin registration. A correct match between the patient’s palm and the medical record reduces the chances of identity theft or misidentification. False acceptance rates (i.e., incorrect identification) are literally one in a million.

“The process sounds a lot more time consuming than it actually is,” says Lienau. “Initial enrollment with the system takes less than a minute to complete and even less than that to authenticate on subsequent visits.”

Lienau and his team encouraged employees to enroll in the database, so hospital staff could familiarize themselves with the scanner and its one-to-one correlation process, before patients started using the system.

In addition, patients no longer need to repeat their information or carry additional forms of identification. Although they can choose not to use the palm-scanning system, Lienau says, “Very few patients opt out. They appreciate that we’re protecting their identity and safety.”

Broadlawns is using 35 scanning devices to scan patients’ hands as they are admitted throughout the hospital.

“Now that we have 17,000 patients scanned in the system, we are working with the software vendor to implement a process to scan unconscious patients,” says Lienau.

And according to Broadlawns’ CFO Al White, the solution has brought many more benefits than first anticipated. “Total costs were approximately $100,000. We estimate two minutes saved per registration, and we see about 180,000 patients per year. This equates to 6,000 hours saved per year, so our payback is a little over one year,” he says.   

About the author

Neil Hansen is network manager at Broadlawns Medical Center. For more on Fujitsu, click here.

Tags:  Security