Biometric techniques, such as iris recognition, palm scanning, or fingerprinting, are used to identify patients at registration in many hospitals. “But it’s important to note that it is not a ‘one-and-done’ approach,” says Julie A. Pursley, MSHI, RHIA, CHDA, FAHIMA, director of health information thought leadership for the American Health Information Management Association.

To achieve and maintain a low duplicate record error rate, it takes “technology, people, and processes,” Pursley says. “Without proper identification, matching patients to their unique health record will continue to result in patient misidentification.”

Currently, the way registrars identify patients varies. The Patient ID Now coalition recommends a national strategy, emphasizing data integrity and quality and the use of technology.1 “As more health data are shared via application programming interfaces [APIs], more patients will want the convenience and efficiencies of self-registering,” Pursley predicts.

Biometrics, APIs, new registration systems, and interoperable electronic health records all are part of a national strategy for patient identification. As it stands now, patient misidentification is a recurring challenge, resulting in administrative inefficiencies, serious injuries, and even death,” Pursley notes.

For several years, patients used hand scanners to check in at registration areas at Salt Lake City-based Huntsman Cancer Hospital. This was discontinued during the COVID-19 pandemic, but leaders expect to reinstate the program at some point, says Junko I. Fowles, CHAM, CRCP-I, supervisor of patient access and financial counseling. Although the department has no hard data to share, Fowles says, “discontinuing hand scanners may have contributed to registration errors, such as duplicate medical record numbers and incorrect patient selection.”

Some patient access departments are reconsidering biometrics altogether. Winston-Salem, NC-based Novant Health was an early adopter of iris recognition in 2013. “We had huge success with it to start,” says Craig Pergrem, senior director of preservice and onsite access.

In one notable case, registration staff even used iris recognition to identify an Alzheimer’s patient who was found walking alone. But problems kept cropping up. “It wasn’t a good fit for us, and we de-installed in 2020,” Pergrem reports.

Staff could never keep the system running properly. There were constant connection issues, necessitating cord changes, newer cameras, and software upgrades. “It finally got to the point where we just unplugged, and we canceled the contract,” Pergrem says.

Patient access went back to asking for driver’s licenses or another form of government-issued identification. “Patients seem happier. There was a lot of ‘Big Brother’ mentality regarding it, and I know my team members are [happier],” Pergrem says. 


  1. HIMSS. Patient ID Now coalition builds framework for a national strategy on patient identity. April 27, 2021.
  2. Patient ID Now. Framework for a National Strategy on Patient Identity: A Proposed Blueprint to Improve Patient Identification and Matching. April 26, 2021.