Registration areas increasingly are using iris or palm vein scanning. Before implementing this technology, patient access should consider the following:

  • How to communicate the change to patients;
  • The need for patients to understand that the technology will protect them from identify theft;
  • What to do if patients want to opt out.

A growing number of patient access departments are turning to biometrics to identify patients, by implementing iris scanning or palm vein scanning technology.

Zachary Rogers, a principal in the Minneapolis office of Deloitte Consulting, notes that some organizations have used the recent focus on integration of electronic systems in the clinical and revenue cycle areas to drive other technology investments. This includes patient identification.

Some hospitals did not have a single, clean Enterprise Master Patient Index (EMPI), for instance. Many organizations recently have improved or created their EMPI through an electronic health record implementation.

“Some used the implementation as an opportunity to invest in biometric scanning technology, thus reducing the patient duplication rate to almost zero vs. an industry average of about 8%,” says Rogers.

Rogers estimates that currently, less than one-third of hospitals have either palm vein or iris scanning in place. As for whether palm vein or iris scanning is preferable, Rogers says both versions have tradeoffs. Both are more accurate than fingerprint scanning.

“Palm vein scanning is the fastest growing area of biometric identification. It’s capable of minimal to ‘no touch’ authentication, and is less expensive than iris scanning,” says Rogers.

Iris scanning is more prone to authentication errors, such as if the patient looks away during the scan. “It typically requires more upfront explanation with the patient,” says Rogers. “Not everyone feels comfortable putting their eye up against something they’re not familiar with.”

Whichever tool is chosen, patient access needs a well-thought out strategy on how to communicate the change to patients.

“Patients should understand why the technology is getting implemented,” says Rogers. “It should make them feel safe that their identity is protected.”

Determine Return on Investment (ROI)

Evidence of cost savings will help patient access leaders justify the investment to hospital administrators. “It is important to come up with your intended ROI,” says Rogers.

Duplicate medical records is one area of considerable savings. “A lot of organizations dedicate significant resources to merging of duplicate medical records,” notes Rogers. Since implementation of palm vein or iris scanning has been shown to reduce duplicate medical records, FTEs can potentially be reallocated. “It also cuts down on identify theft and bad debt,” adds Rogers.

Although the majority of patients are comfortable with the new technology, not all are. Policies and procedures also are needed for what to do if a particular patient chooses not to utilize the new technology.

“Think through what to do if a patient opts out,” says Rogers. “You need to be sure your staff are ready, just as if you were rolling out kiosks or anything else in the patient access arena.”

Patients typically are satisfied with palm vein and iris scanning, however. Rogers predicts patients will get used to the new technology quickly and even come to expect it in registration areas.

“Think about the airline industry. We all hated those kiosks when they first came out,” says Rogers. “Now we get frustrated if a kiosk isn’t available and have to wait in line to speak with a customer service rep.”


  • Zachary Rogers, Principal, Deloitte Consulting, Minneapolis. Phone: (612) 397-4679. Email: zrogers@deloitte.com.