Pew says consumers prefer biometrics for patient matching, but hospitals have concerns

More than 70 percent of respondents ranked biometrics, such as fingerprinting and facial recognition, as the top choice for a unique identifier while hospital executives raised some questions.
By Tom Sullivan
12:48 PM
man putting thumb on biometric reader

Pew Charitable Trusts this week published a report on patient matching, examining it as a key challenge for healthcare's overall goal of more effective interoperability. In the study, Pew looked at the potential for biometrics and, through interviews with consumers and healthcare executives, determined that patients "overwhelmingly supported the use of biometrics."


Patient matching is an ongoing healthcare problem around the world made even more complex in the U.S. where law prohibits the sort of national identifier that countries including China, Israel and New Zealand have in place – though Pew was careful to point out that interoperability and record matching issues still exist in those nations to varying extents.

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With biometrics already deployed in airports, amusement parks and sports stadiums to scan tickets, Pew said healthcare could leverage similar approaches as consumers become more familiar with using the techniques in combination with their smartphones,.

Any potential to implement emerging technologies that make it easier for hospitals, practices, payers and other healthcare organizations to recognize individual patients and match an individual's medical data to that person holds considerable promise.

But fulfilling that will require both hospitals and consumers to be willing to roll out biometrics and, in turn, agree to use them.

"Participants were asked about different forms of unique identifiers, including smart cards and usernames, and overwhelmingly supported the use of biometrics as the identifier," Pew wrote in the report.

What's more, while 70 of the total 95 participants picked biometrics as their top choice, Pew said that almost everyone ranked it among the top two. That's on the patient side.

"Health care providers interviewed generally welcomed the use of unique identifiers but expressed several concerns," Pew wrote.

The report highlighted three such areas of concern. For starters, healthcare executives told Pew that they anticipate patients will be resistant, even consider biometrics to be invasive.

Next, they said that even though biometrics could be accurate, "this approach cannot be effective until standards exist for documenting the information, agreement is reached on the modalities to use, and deploying the technology becomes more cost-effective."

Finally, the executives said that undocumented patient populations could be reluctant to seek care at facilities that use biometrics for fear of being tracked by the government, particularly given today's political turmoil.


"Biometrics represent a promising approach for a unique identifier, though they could also be used along with other technologies – such as smartphone applications or cards for those patients who opt for an alternative approach," Pew researchers wrote in the report. "However, using biometrics for matching across organizations requires identifying and adopting standards and a nationwide agreed-upon infrastructure on how to leverage different modalities."

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