Biometrics Is Helping Defend Against Cyber Attacks in Healthcare

Published: February 20, 2015

NEW YORK – To help prevent cyber espionage and enhance patient safety, medical companies have begun adopting an array of biometrics security systems that use data from a patient’s fingerprint, iris, veins or face. The new technologies are intended to deter hacking by removing reliance on information that’s easy to steal and can easily identify patients.

For the last two years, the health industry suffered the highest number of hackings of any sector. Last year, it accounted for 43% of all data breaches, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center.

One of the most crucial steps of the medical treatment process is correctly identifying a patient when he or she walks through the door, according to Fortune. For 12 years, improving the accuracy of the process has been a goal of the Joint Commission, which accredits and certifies more than 20,000 U.S. health care organizations and programs.

A high-quality image of a person’s iris pattern, for example, can prevent fraud and duplicate records, or what are known as “overlays,” when medical information for someone else makes it into a person’s file.

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Duplicates are not a big concern with regard to patient safety, but for healthcare providers, they are a huge expense: the cost to resolve every duplicate pair rings in at around $50, according to a 2004 study by Initiate Systems. Eight percent of patient records, on average, are duplicates. For systems with more than one million records, the figure was even higher: 9.4%, which would carry with it a cost of $4.7 million.

Overlays, meanwhile, are more dangerous for patients and more costly and time-consuming for an institution to resolve. A patient with a contaminated record could be administered the wrong medication or mistreated. Though overlays occur at a far lower rate – 1% or less – than duplicates, a single overlay can take 60 to 100 hours to resolve at an average cost of $19 per hour (or $1,140 to $1,900 per case), according to Fortune‘s report.

Biometric systems can combine physical traits and personal history to create a unique record that can be quickly recalled. For instance, RightPatient launched in 2011 and allows healthcare providers to link a patient’s biometric data to his or her medical record. The system registers a patient’s fingerprints, veins – in the finger or palm – and face at enrollment and later uses that signature to recall a medical record.

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