New scan technology at UW Health gives a hand in identifying patients

October 26, 2010 | In: Hardware

Being identified at University of Wisconsin Health is now a hands-on experience.

Check-in clerks are using devices that scan vein patterns in palms to link patients to their electronic medical records. The scans can also help emergency room staff identify patients unable to speak.

Until the scanners were introduced this month, patients gave their name, date of birth, address and other information when entering UW Hospital or UW Health clinics. But errors can occur because some patients have the same names, said Mike Sauk, UW Health’s chief information officer. Insurance fraud and identify theft also are concerns, Sauk said.

“With the palm scanner, there is no doubt who you are,” he said. “And if you’re unconscious, we just need to have a palm.”
The scanners use harmless, near-infrared light – like that in television remote controls – to scan the unique vein patterns in hands, which provide more accurate identification than fingerprints, Sauk said.

To enroll in the system – called Secure, Accurate, Fast, Efficient, or SAFE – patients present a photo ID, answer some questions and have their palm scanned. On subsequent visits, they provide their date of birth and get a palm scan.

“It’s not actually an image of the palm,” Lisa Woodward, UW Health’s manager of administrative, financial and medical record systems, says in a video about the scanners on UW Health’s website. “It’s looking at the blood flow in the veins in the palm, and it’s taking data points and storing those.”

UW Health says it’s the first hospital in Wisconsin to use the scanners, but hospitals in other states have been using them. UW Health spent about $70,000 to buy about 200 of the scanners, Sauk said.

St. Mary’s Hospital started taking patient photos at some check-in desks this month to prevent identity problems, said Rhonda Fullerton, patient registration supervisor. Meriter Hospital has no plans to use vein scanners, said spokeswoman Mae Knowles.
At UW Health, children will be scanned beginning at age 5 and rescanned each year, while they are growing, until age 15.
The palm data could be released to law enforcement, UW Health’s website says, “in special circumstances or pursuant to a court order.”

Patients who refuse to be scanned will still be treated, but clerks will continue asking them to enroll. About 10,000 of UW Health’s 2 million patients have been scanned so far, Sauk said.

Source: Wisconsin State Journal, October 26, 2010

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