Patient data privacy should be central to patient safety, industry insiders say

Few would have heard of it, but September 17 was World Patient Safety Day, and the United Nations used the day to try to build momentum for its Medication Without Harm challenge. Representatives from Jumio and Aware argue that biometrics can help solve long-standing issues while improving patient care.

Biometric identification is a major focus of the effort because help for one person may be death for another.

In fact, of all the preventable harm patients suffer worldwide from unsafe care, drug-related injuries pose the greatest danger, according to the United Nations World Health Organization.

In a guest article written for the Indian trade publication Financial Express Health Care, a medical superintendent from Aakash Healthcare listed six areas of focus that must be at the heart of patient safety.

Four dealt with patient identity: effective communication, security of personal information, security of medications and correct identification of patients. (The other two were preventing falls and managing infections.)

Many surgical patients, on the day of their operation, are asked to tell the medical team, for example, which limb is being worked on – sometimes they are asked to draw an X on their own limbs.

Doctors (and their insurance companies) want the best possible identification in these situations to avoid performing surgery on the wrong limb or even the wrong person.

This cannot be done with drugs, which is why biometrics is increasingly seen as a solution to minimizing prescription errors. The WHO, citing research conducted in the UK, found that between November 2003 and July 2005 there were 236 “incidents and near-misses” involving missing wristbands or incorrect wristbands.

In addition to preventing harmful errors, medication errors are estimated to cost the global economy $42 billion a year.

The WHO has created posters and other materials for those involved in administering medication to patients, and they convey a message that is familiar to almost everyone in the digital ID community. “Before you give it… Know. Check. Interrogate.”

And not just at check-in, according to a guest post by Jumio chief digital identity officer Philipp Pointner in the news publication Business Leader. The same biometric identification can and arguably should be part of a patient’s entire stay, at least during transitions like the OR and back.

In the United States, Democrats are trying to regain momentum on health care issues, although it’s a draw right now if they’ll be able to stick to that agenda in the near future as mid-term elections are looming.

An article in the political news publication Politico lists health care issues dear to a sizeable segment of Democratic voters, including patient IDs and abortion data privacy.

Another attempt to lift the ban on federal funds for a national patient identification system is on the agenda again this session, after failing last year.

It could be that some healthcare organizations are waiting for Washington to make the choice to adopt biometrics for them. They have a number of sticking points of their own.

Industry leaders are reluctant to impose biometric identification systems on consumers. Distrust is up for debate, but executives would like to avoid having this conversation every day with frightened, confused, and otherwise non-compliant consumers walking into their facilities.

In a guest post by Aware CEO Bob Eckel and published by HIT Consultant Media, Eckel argues that the healthcare industry has been burned by incompatible information technologies. More digitized health services could be an opportunity to bring the benefits of biometric security to the industry, he argues.

Article topics

Conscious | biometrics | digital identification | health care | identity verification | Jumia | patient identification

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