Palm scan technology improves patient safety

A New York City hospital is taking patient identification into the 21st century by using palm scans to avoid identity confusion and improve patient safety.

New York University Langone Medical Center (NYU Langone) recently began using PatientSecure, a biometric technology from HT Systems in Tampa, FL, to identify patients, says Bernard A. Birnbaum, MD, senior vice president, vice dean and chief of hospital operations at NYU Langone.

"Patient safety is the primary reason we investigated this technology," Birnbaum says. "I'm a radiologist by training, and we radiologists were always frustrated by and scared of duplicate medical record numbers. The primary reason we implemented this system was to combat duplicate medical records."

Those duplicate records are generated when people use slight variations of their name during the admissions process, such as Michael Smith, Mike Smith, and Michael B. Smith. Employees and the software system should be able to stop the duplication, but nevertheless some will slip through, Birnbaum says. "It's a dirty little secret in most health systems," Birnbaum says. "Nobody wants to talk about it."

Using a palm scanner enables the hospital to instantly tie that palm print to the correct medical record, Birnbaum says. Utilizing near infrared light to map an image of the blood-flow pattern through the veins in a person's palm, the digital palm image is converted into a unique patient identifier that interfaces with the medical center's electronic health record system. "Vein patterns are 100 times more unique than fingerprints," Birnbaum says. "As a result, PatientSecure provides a safe, secure, easy and fast way for our patients to register for care at the medical center. It not only protects privacy and enhances quality, but transforms the patient experience."

The advanced technology of PatientSecure helps to ensure each patient is correctly linked to the right medical record, a task which is not always as straightforward as it sounds, Birnbaum says. For example, at the medical center alone, two or more patients with healthcare records share the same first and last names more than 125,000 times, he notes. As a result, with PatientSecure, a patient simply places his or her hand on a small black box and their unique identifying palm portrait automatically registers them and accesses his or her electronic health record, reducing the chances of misidentification and minimizing the need to present other identifying information after initial enrollment, such as a driver's license or Social Security number.

Streamlining the traditionally cumbersome registration process also helps enhance the overall patient experience from the moment the patient walks in the door and provides added protection from medical identity theft because patients no longer need to share personal identifying information, Birnbaum says.

NYU Langone piloted the palm scanning technology in May 2011 at their Internal Medicine Associates faculty group practice. Following the hospital implementation in June, more than 5,000 patients embraced PatientSecure in just one week, and the numbers continue to rise, Birnbaum says.

Birnbaum notes that if a patient without identification arrives at the medical center unconscious or unable to communicate, PatientSecure can be a lifesaving tool that quickly identifies the individual, opens his or her electronic health record, and alerts medical professionals to crucial information, including medical history, allergies, and current medications.

Registration using PatientSecure is available for inpatient registration at the medical center's three hospitals: Tisch Hospital, the Hospital for Joint Diseases, and the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine. It is also available for outpatient services at the medical center, including radiology and lab tests, as well as at a growing number of physician offices affiliated with NYU Langone. There is no cost to patients to participate in PatientSecure.

NYU Langone has 250 of the palm scanners in place. Birnbaum estimates that the first-year cost was about $200,000, which included acquiring the hardware.

"Patients love it. They describe it as a VIP process and they're all in favor of it reducing errors and identity theft," Birnbaum says. "It really expedites the registration process because they scan their palm and their records come right up."


• Bernard A. Birnbaum, MD, Senior Vice President, Vice Dean, Chief of Hospital Operations at New York University Langone Medical Center, New York City.