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Thumbprint of the Face: Hospital Brings in 3D Camera for Secure Sign On

October 1, 2014
by Gabriel Perna
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Mason General Hospital, located in the tiny city of Shelton, Wash. on the western side of the Puget Sound, is unlike most critical access hospitals (CAHs). 

While many smaller facilities have become negative examples of the so-called “digital divide,” as Gary Diemert explains it, the 25-bed Mason General Hospital has the kind of technology you’d essentially see at a bigger facility. Diemert, the IT supervisor at the hospital, says that the hospital doesn’t cut any corners when it comes to technology that can improve patient care and satisfaction.

“We’re striving towards IT as a service to actually be a contributor to the solution and not one that sucks the money out of the organization,” he says.  

Thus, when Diemert went to HIMSS14 in Orlando last year and saw something in a mocked up patient room that fit into that category, he didn’t hesitate. He wanted in.

The technology Diemert saw that day (from the Lexington, Mass.-based Imprivata) was a system that utilizes a 3D camera, video tracking technology, and facial recognition to allow practitioners to log into their workstation hands free.  It’s called the OneSign Secure Walk-Away and the IT director was able to bring into Mason General to beta test for Imprivata.

The product allows providers to walk up to a desktop, tap in, and have the camera map a real-time template of their face so when they walk away it locks. When they return, no badge is needed, it recognizes the face and will sign the provider back in.

“It’s a thumbprint of your face. The more time you stand in front of the camera, the more details it maps. Eventually, there is zero chance of a mismatch. We have never had a mismatch and we’ve pushed it pretty hard,” Diemert says. There are no twins on the staff, he says, but the hospital did test out the 3D camera with glasses and hats.

The camera appealed to Diemert because unlike many secure sign on software solutions, it doesn’t require touching. This prevents any kind of infection control issues from happening. Furthermore, Diemert says the camera allows protected health information (PHI) on the computer to be safeguarded, since the screen locks as soon as the practitioner steps away.

First, Mason tested it in the wound care area. Next, they’ll use it for an extended pilot in the emergency department. Eventually, Diemert envisions the system being used enterprise wide.

The main improvement he’d like to see is an ability to switch desktop settings, based on the person standing there, without having to badge and log in. Currently, it only locks and unlocks the screen of the logged in person. If a new person wants to log in, they have to use the badge and let it read their face. Overall though, he is satisfied with how it worked out so far.

“I see it as a real valuable part of technology that is a safeguard for PHI, infection, and screen privacy. This solves all of that,” Diemert says.