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This John Doe Has a Name

January 18, 2009
by daphne
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On Friday, The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology released its final report on the medical identity theft. It proposed possible actions for the Feds and other stakeholders around the prevention of medical identify theft. And it says that HIT has the potential for being a powerful tool in preventing and detecting medical identity theft. Duh.

Section 4.3.3 was really interesting to me—it was on Patient Authentication, and noted that patient authentication can be one of the simplest yet most effective methods in preventing medical identity theft. It says, “technology solutions such as biometrics, smart cards, or electronic patient records may be able to assist providers in verifying patients’ identities.”

I sat up when I read that. Biometrics has been on my radar lately, and not just for preventing ID theft; it can ID a patient who’s unconscious with no ID—or worse. Here’s another of my true stories:

A few days before the report came out, I was talking to Lindsey Jarrell, CIO for Tampa, Fla.-based BayCare Health System, a nine-hospital system. Jarrell is an early adopter of biometrics and is using palm vein scanning for patient ID throughout his system to tremendous success. And he told me this story:

“We had a John Doe come in this morning. No name...just an address of where they picked him up. Through lots of investigation we were able to get in touch with his landlord and get a name. We couldn't change the name because it was just hearsay and not a positive identification. The gentleman had been here before and was enrolled in Palm Scanning. Even though he had passed, we took the Workstation on Wheels into the room and authenticated him and it came up with the name we were told by the landlord.”

So John Doe now had a name. Think about it.

I’ll be covering this story in our March issue of Healthcare Informatics if you want to know more about the topic. It’s definitely not just the stuff of science fiction anymore.

And in Tampa, one John Doe now has a name.



Hi Joe, I've been checking this out and apparently fingerprinting is not as accurate as the palm vein. I am going to be following it. Some even talked about retinal scanning, but as some CIOs told me, obviously, the invasive issue for patients is too much. they apprently love just waving their hand. I'm with you on the county health systems and shared paper IDs, I've seen that in action, with many sharing a SS# too.

That's a great story.

My personal experience with biometric authentication on my notebook has convinced me that fingerprint sign-on is highly-sensitive. I don't know how specific it is. I haven't asked anyone else, ever, to try to log in with their thumb or index finger. I wonder if any readers out there can comment on that.

So the technology may be ready. Significant parts of society have not been. Several of my clients are among the largest County health systems in the country. They've known for the last 5+ years that they could do positive patient identification with inexpensive, reliable biometrics. Politically, it's a non-starter.

There's a new twist, however. The current administration ran on a platform of dramatically expanding coverage. At least this one barrier may be softening or lifted for some, where biometrics meant the end of their 'coverage' system, i.e. shared paper IDs.