biometrics in healthcare biometric authentication

Biometric Authentication for Healthcare

The healthcare industry has been an early adopter of biometrics for both patient and healthcare worker identification and authentication. Its adoption is being driven by industry regulation and a rise in medical identity theft.

Combatting Medical Identity Theft

One of the primary drivers for the adoption of biometrics in healthcare is to counteract fraud. There have been a significant number of high-profile incidents in the healthcare industry where criminals have targeted large depositories of medical identity information.

In fact, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center, the healthcare sector accounted for 42.5 percent of total cases of identity theft, the highest rate in any industry.

In 2015, health insurer Excellus BlueCross BlueShield announced that it was hacked in 2013, with more than 10 million of its customer’s information been stolen. This followed the news that the US’ second largest health insurer, Anthem, had also suffered a major data breach in 2015 that left over 78 million accounts exposed.

The Role of Regulation

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) first became law in 1996 and covers the regulation of the US healthcare industry. Biometric verification of identity is a component part of the Technical Security Services to Guard Data Integrity, Confidentiality, and Availability, and is included as a Unique User Identification method. Biometrics are seen as one of the important tools to ensure compliance with HIPAA, especially the Privacy Rule and its effect on Protected Health Information (PHI).

Biometric Technology

Biometrics have been used in healthcare for many years and there are numerous applications and models being deployed. There are already a combination of single and multi factor biometric authentication with fingerprint, face, iris, palm, and behavioral biometric technologies being deployed in medical centers across the globe.

It is important to note that when choosing a biometric provider, healthcare organizations must take into consideration the different physical requirements of both the area where they are being used and the restrictions on the people using them. This applies to both a gloved and masked surgeon in a hospital to an elderly patient accessing their own medical records from home.

As some areas within a hospital or clinic are ‘clean’ zones, with clinicians wearing surgical gloves and masks, a number of biometric modalities are more suitable than others. For these circumstances, eye-based biometric technologies have proved popular.

Biometrics Make Verifying Identity Easy

Another area that biometrics are currently being used for is to provide a convenient method to verify patient identity.

It is critically important to properly identify patients. In fact, it’s actually a matter of life and death. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), accurate patient identification is one of the nine priorities to improve patient safety. Clinicians need to know the correct identity of patients before medical procedures and when administering drugs, and biometrics are a perfect identifier as they can be used if the patient is under anesthetic or is too ill to verify their identity.

For example, a patient can enroll in a biometric identification solution at the reception desk by proving their identity using trusted credentials. Once enrolled, the patient’s identity can be verified at each stage of their treatment to ensure that the correct person is being given their treatment. Furthermore, a biometric service can also be extended to work when the patient is released home and wants to access their medical records or needs to renew a prescription.

For healthcare workers, biometrics can provide a convenient and secure method to support accurate dispensing of prescription drugs and be used for logical authentication and physical access control. A biometric identity system that can combine physical and logical access control is a powerful proposition for hospitals and clinics as it is vital to ensure that authorized healthcare workers are allowed to enter certain restricted areas and to prescribe drugs or to perform medical procedures.

The Market for Biometrics in Healthcare

Despite biometrics being used in healthcare for many years, the overall market size has been relatively modest. But there are positive signs that the market will steadily grow for both state-delivered and private healthcare. In India, the Aadhaar biometric identity program (the largest biometric identity system in the world with over 700 million citizens currently enrolled) is being linked to the provision of state healthcare. For private healthcare provision, on the other hand, the USA will dominate the market and will benefit from the development of biometric platforms that support multimodal biometric identity.  

I believe that the market will grow significantly and by 2020 will be worth in the region of $5-$6 billion. This is compared to the current value of the market which is in the region of $1 billion. This growth will be led by biometric technology that is a natural fit for the many applications within the healthcare industry. Solutions that can meet both the regulatory and usability demands will drive increased adoption for both state-delivered and private healthcare services.

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