At Sentara Healthcare, biometric tech links patients to correct records

The palm print identity authentication system connects 750,000 patients to their Epic EHR – in one case, even when a patient was having a stroke and unable to speak.
By Bill Siwicki
12:35 PM
At Sentara Healthcare, biometric tech links patients to correct records

Sentara Healthcare is a 130-year-old health system headquartered in Norfolk, Virginia, with 12 hospitals, 3,739 beds and 445,000 members in its health plan.


Like many healthcare organizations, Sentara has experienced widespread growth. One of the challenges accompanying such growth is the need to manage patient identification in an expanding but connected ecosystem with patient records generated in various electronic health record systems.

Growth and increased patient expectations over time has not hampered Sentara’s commitment to patient safety, which is among five core commitments that are integral to Sentara’s philosophy.

“Because we care, Sentara is committed to improving health every day,” said Tara Slone, IT product manager at Sentara Healthcare.


To solve the problem of patient identification throughout such a large health system with disparate information systems, Sentara turned to Imprivata, a healthcare security company that specializes in identity authentication.

Imprivata’s PatientSecure technology offered Sentara a solution to address the challenges of managing a patient’s identity and improving the patient experience, Slone said. The technology ensures that a patient is accurately identified and connected to their records, ensuring that their medical information is linked to them wherever they go across the Sentara Healthcare continuum, she added.

“Additionally, it addresses downstream problems and costs associated with duplicate medical records, overlays and lost revenue,” she explained. “Patients expect a safe experience and want to be assured that medical decisions are being made based on their information. PatientSecure is a perfect solution to help achieve this.”


There is a variety of biometric authentication technology systems on the market today. Some of the vendors of these technologies include Aware, CrossMatch, ID R&D, Infinity Optics Solutions, Johnson Controls, OneLogin, RightPatient and RSA.


To address these various goals, Sentara implemented the technology, which generates a single biometric identifier for every patient, integrated with their Epic EHR record, creating a 1-to-1 link between the individual patient and their unique medical record.

“Once enrolled, patients who return to any Sentara site need only scan their palm to identify themselves and bring up their correct medical record,” said Slone. “Registrars simply need to have the patient scan their palm and they’re medical record is quickly and accurately accessed.”


Sentara has enrolled more than 750,000 patients in the identity authentication technology system and has more than 2 million authentications, meaning that patients are being identified by their palm prints when they return to a Sentara Healthcare location.

“We strive to make a meaningful impact on patients by personalizing and improving their experience and simplifying access to their health,” said Slone. “Patients can be identified when they are unconscious or unable to speak. In one case, a patient arrived while having a stroke, unable to identify himself. The ER nurses used the Trauma Search function of PatientSecure to identify the patient and confidently provide the proper care.”


Reflecting on the most important factors in implementing this kind of technology, Slone offered the following advice.

“The need for a shift in thinking and behavior around how patients at Sentara are identified and registered was significant: We really needed that message to come from the top down, and to be consistent across employee and patient education,” she said. “Everyone who interacts with patients should understand exactly what the system does and the benefits it brings.”

Understanding workflows and patient flow is critical to ensure the technology works with how one’s organization conducts business while achieving its patient identity goals, she added. It also is an opportunity to rethink some processes and improve them, she concluded.

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
Email the writer:
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

 Prepare for next-gen cybersecurity threats and join the #HITsecurity discussion at the HIMSS Healthcare Security Forum this Dec. 9-10 in Boston.


Focus on Patient Experience

This month, our coverage will continue a special focus on the patient experience. We'll talk to the thought leaders and first-movers reimagining the how and where of patient-friendly tech, and report on ways to activate, if not delight, the people they treat.

Want to get more stories like this one? Get daily news updates from Healthcare IT News.
Your subscription has been saved.
Something went wrong. Please try again.