The use of biometrics will go “from a nice-to-have, to an essential requirement” for patient access departments, predicts Mollie Drake, MBA, former senior director of corporate access management for Scripps Health in San Diego.

“Any other means to tie an individual to their medical history will be fraught with the same problems we see today with Social Security numbers and photo identifications,” Drake says. “These can be easily compromised.”

In a 2014 report, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT recommended implementing technological solutions to reduce the number of patient misidentifications.1

Drake says patient access is in a unique position to utilize technology to avoid mistakes.

“When that first step in the patient interaction is conducted accurately, the entire cycle flows smoothly,” she explains.

Some registration errors stem from a desire to boost productivity and “the need for speed,” Drake explains.

Registrars sometimes create new records simply because it’s quicker than researching existing multiple records.

These duplicate medical records are fairly easy to detect.

“But they’re very tedious and time-consuming to resolve,” says Drake, noting that the records must be merged, which could involve multiple systems and even paper records. “Great pain must be taken to ensure the two records are, in fact, on the same patient.”

An existing medical record “overlaid” with incorrect information is a much more serious problem than a duplicate record.

“Now one patient record contains information on two separate individuals,” Drake says. “Clinicians are viewing an inaccurate medical history.”

The problem typically is discovered only after the wrong person receives a bill for medical services.

“Determining which information belongs to which patient is very difficult,” says Drake, noting that often, the second person who received the services can’t be identified. “Frequently, the solution is to block the corrupt record and create a new one when the patient again presents.”

Biometrics “take the guesswork out of assigning a medical record number,” Drake says, by taking the registrar directly to the correct patient’s record.

“This eliminates interpretation of demographic information and plain old human error,” Drake adds.

Biometric identification is going to be necessary, Drake concludes, “if we are ever to achieve the goal of a single medical record for every person.” n


  1. Morris G, Farnum G, Afzal S, et al. Office of the National Coordinator. Patient identification and matching final report, 2014. Available at: