Care You Can’t Touch: Biometrics in Healthcare

September 8, 2022     |    5 minute read

Care You Can’t Touch: Biometrics in Healthcare

September 8, 2022     |    5 minute read

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Do you remember the days of going to the doctor’s office and seeing walls of paper files? Every patient chart was written on paper, often in the doctor’s indecipherable scrawl. The files were stored from floor to ceiling, maybe in movable shelves so the office could hold hundreds, likely thousands of files.

What would happen if there was a fire? Or if a burglar broke in and stole the files and your personal data? While medical practices surely had contingency plans and plans for disaster recovery, as technology has evolved, so have the methods of storing patient data.

Today, nearly all doctors’ offices have online portals. These portals represent conveniences and improvements that span beyond just the practical. Accessing all of your medical data in one central location means you can see and schedule appointments, manage medications, and ask questions of your healthcare professionals. It’s also advantageous for your doctor to move your medical records online. Doctors save space in physical storage but also improve patient care by having the ability to search and reference patient information – and access more of it. Typing patient records can be more accurate and thorough instead of scrawling. But what’s convenient for the patient/provider relationship can also be convenient for bad actors.

More electronic health records (EHRs) mean more potential treasure troves of private information for nefarious characters to potentially breach. There is a vast landscape – an entire industry – of companies, platforms, and systems intended to protect EHRs. But that protection essentially boils down to two core functions. Health information must be protected while stored in the form of encryption or some other form of encoding. And those records must be protected so that only an authorized individual can access them.

How do Biometrics Fit into the Healthcare Industry?

Biometrics can help bolster security in the healthcare industry in a variety of ways. Patient matching is one area, with several use cases, that is widely being considered for improvement through biometrics. When a patient seeks care in a healthcare provider’s office, how can that provider match that person with their correct health record? What if there are several individuals with the same name? Biometrics is a potential solution to this problem. A patient scanning their fingerprint to be matched against a database of authorized fingerprints reduces the potential for human error or misidentification by orders of magnitude.

Some other areas are:

  • Protect against ransomware: Healthcare organizations face a significant risk of having their data overtaken. Ransomware attacks hit 66% of healthcare organizations in 2021. A full 20% of all data breaches are ransomware attacks. Robust access management methods, through biometric authentication, can help healthcare providers ensure that only authorized individuals are accessing their records.
  • Prevent breaches and maintain compliance: Adaptive multi-factor authentication can help prevent breaches in online health portals and other internal/external systems that healthcare providers use. For example, requiring patients to provide a selfie and voice authentication is significantly more secure than requiring a password alone.
  • Fight fraud: The security offered by biometrics reduces the opportunity for an individual to commit fraud by providing false information when applying for programs or services. A robust authentication platform allows healthcare providers to verify identity documents and ensure that those seeking services are who they claim to be.

The Future of Biometrics in Healthcare

EHRs storage and security is an ever-changing field, faced with threats that continue to evolve. Biometrics show promise to advance the healthcare field overall by making it easier for providers to store data and for patients to access it. Areas that show the most continued promise for the use of biometrics in healthcare are:

Patient Registration:

Patient registration and subsequent communication with their healthcare providers used to be cumbersome, time-consuming, and paper-laden for those seeking care. With biometrics, patients can register their biometric data, such as fingerprints or an iris scan, at their initial registration with the practice. They will then have a quick and easy check-in process for appointments moving forward, or streamlined and secure access to their online patient portal.

Password elimination:

The ideal place to store passwords is in your head. The problem is that everyone seems to have dozens of unique passwords they need to remember, and the human capacity for memory is only so strong. So many people resign to write passwords down or use the same or similar passwords for multiple accounts. Using biometrics in authentication means that patients and providers no longer need to remember (or face the security risk) of accessing their secure systems using passwords. For instance, upon an attempt by a patient to log into their healthcare provider’s website, they can receive a message on their mobile phone that prompts a biometric capture. Only the person who possesses the smartphone and can successfully authenticate biometrically can log in. This approach could be used to verify the identity of someone picking up prescriptions at a pharmacy.

Access Control:

Of course, many areas in a healthcare provider’s office or hospital are off-limits to most individuals. Nurses’ stations, medical supply storage areas, the pharmacy, and the Intensive Care Unit, to name a few. Securing these areas by fingerprint scan or facial recognition, for example, provides for more secure access that can’t be easily bypassed and eliminates credentials that can be stolen or forged – like badges and keycards.

Remember that wall of paper files in the doctor’s office? Moving those files from physical paper to online data was advantageous for the provider and the patient. But it ultimately served one purpose greater than any other – improving the patient experience.

By moving the data online, healthcare facilities can provide care more efficiently, with fewer errors, and more security – if protected by the right measures like robust authentication methods. It may feel less like a doctor’s office without rows of filing cabinets and a stack of manila folders. But that’s a small price for what we’ve received in return.

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