Hospital identifies, tracks patients with palm reader

Officials at NYU's Langone Medical Center say using biometric infrared scanning to create digital palm images is the most efficient, accurate way to ensure patients get the right treatment.

New York University’s Langone Medical Center is using biometric infrared scanning to create digital palm images to track patients.

The hospital says it is the first in the Northeast to do so.

PatientSecure uses infrared light to create an image of the blood-flow pattern through the veins in the patient’s palm. The image is then converted to a unique patient identifier that can be used by the medical center’s electronic health records system, which went online June 5 for certain functions, reports Neil Versel in Information Week.

"Vein patterns are 100 times more unique than fingerprints," Bernard A. Birnbaum, MD, senior vice president and vice dean, chief of hospital operations at NYU Langone, said in a release.

"It had the highest accuracy and highest usability of any biometric technology we looked at," he told Information Week. The technology more accurately links a patient to the right medical record, reducing misidentification.

Correctly identifying the right medical records for each patient by name alone is particularly problematic — the medical center has had two or more patients with the same first and last names more than 125,000 times.

According to reports, patient misidentification can be fatal. For example, one study noted that blood transfusion errors can be common. The same report noted that another study found 23 out of 25 doctors incorrectly ordered tests for the wrong patient when electronically entering information into a computerized system.

The biometric scanner also eliminates the need to present other identification such as a driver’s license or Social Security number, improving privacy and reducing the potential for identity theft. The technology also streamlines the registration process; although the scanning lengthens the initial registration process, subsequent visits are much faster. PatientSecure officials say the initial scanning takes less than one minute and is faster with subsequent visits.

“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 patient Michael Baldwin in the release. "It's immediate and instantaneous," he added.

The scanner also can register patients who don’t arrive with identification or are unconscious or unable to communicate. It automatically brings up the patient's medical record, including the patient's medical history, allergies and medications.

The medical center piloted the technology last month at their Internal Medicine Associates faculty group practice. Last week more than 5,000 patients were scanned into the system. The system is used at the three hospitals at the medical center – Tisch Hospital, the Hospital for Joint Diseases and the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine. It is also available for outpatient services and a growing number of physician offices affiliated with the center. There is no cost to patients to use the system.

The palm reader is deployed at about 14 other U.S. health care centers, according to ComputerWorld

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