Hospital using palm scan to prevent ID theft

The Greenville NewsFebruary 3, 2014 

Elaine Ledford, left, a registration representative at Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital, demonstrates the new Patient Secure system, a hand scanner that identifies patients at registration, on coworker Kathy Woods.

HEIDI HEILBRUNN — The Greenville News

— Patients using someone else’s identity to obtain medical services is a problem that hospitals have been combating for years.

Bon Secours St. Francis Health System believes the answer lies in the palm of your hand.

PatientSecure is a biometric system that enables the hospital to register patients by scanning their palms with a harmless near-infrared beam.

“The patient places his hand on top of the device, and … it takes a picture of the veins in the palm,” said Rebecca Carter, administrative director of clinical informatics.

“It is specific to the patient, and it will connect the (scan) to the patient’s medical record,” she said. “We do this to make sure we have the right patient connected to the right record. And it helps cut out identity theft.”

It happened more than a dozen times at St. Francis last year - someone using another person’s insurance, she said.

“Some people have told us that family members have tried to use their insurance in the past, so they’re eager to enroll,” she said. “We had one lady who said her daughter likes to try to use her insurance, and she was like, ‘Scan me.’ ”

And often, Carter said, people don’t realize their information has been used until they get a bill. Then, it can take days for the hospital to clean the record, she said. And because patients are liable for the bills, it can cause them problems, too, until they can prove that someone else used their insurance, she said.

“They don’t put things on hold because you say it wasn’t you,” she said. “It all takes time.”

It’s also helpful when there are patients with the same name, which happens several times a week, Carter said. In that case, it prevents a possible mix-up of records.

“If you have allergies or certain diseases,” she said, “you want nurses and doctors to know that before they prescribe something that could cause additional … problems downstream.”

And it’s useful when an enrolled patient arrives in the ER either unconscious or without ID, because staff can scan the palm to identify the person on the stretcher. “If a patient might have been in an accident, or they’re not sure who they are, they have to start treating as a John or Jane Doe, and they don’t know their medical history,” Carter said. “With this, if you’re enrolled and they scan you, it immediately opens your chart.”

The scan doesn’t replace hospital wrist bands, which are used for medication administration and other services, she said.

“The bands are used by health care workers throughout the hospital as an identifier,” she said. “The more we can use to secure your identity and protect you, the better. This is just an extra layer of security.”

The system is used at registration points like emergency rooms at St. Francis - Downtown and St. Francis - Eastside as well as at physical therapy locations and at the Millennium Campus, which currently has only outpatient facilities, she said.

It can be used on anyone 5 and older, Carter said, though children should be rescanned every year or so because the vasculature can change.

The scan is translated into code, and remains in the system so that the next time a patient arrives for tests or treatment, his palm can simply be scanned to connect with the medical record, she said.

But no one outside of St. Francis, including HT Systems, the developer of PatientSecure, has access to either the scan or the medical record, she said.

Since there are no pictures of palms or veins stored, the information cannot be stolen, she said. And Carter said the system is not connected in any way to law enforcement or the federal government.

Though optional, most patients have been happy to enroll in it, she said.

Eventually, Carter said, St. Francis will take PatientSecure to members of LifeWise, a senior citizens club, so they can be enrolled, as well as to employees.

Greenville Health System plans to address biometric patient identification as part of its new EPIC Electronic Medical Record system, which is currently being implemented, said Rich Rogers, vice president and chief information officer.

HT Systems says that more than 250 hospitals nationwide have adopted the system. To use it, St. Francis purchased some equipment and contracts with the company for a monthly fee, but declined to disclose the amount citing vendor confidentiality.

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