I don’t know about you, but until recently I thought of biometrics as almost a toy technology, something you’d imagine a fictional spy like James Bond circumvent (through pure manliness) when entering the archenemy’s hideout. Or perhaps retinal or fingerprint scans would protect Batman’s lair.
But today, in 2016, biometric apps are far from fodder for mythic spies. The price of fingerprint scan-based technology has fallen to nearly zero, with vendors like Apple offering fingerprint-based security options as a standard part of its iOS iPhone operating system. Another free biometric security option comes courtesy of Intel’s True Key app, which allows you to access encrypted app data by scanning and recognizing your facial features. And these are just trivial examples. Biometrics technologies, in short, have become powerful, usable and relatively affordable — elevating them well above other healthcare technologies for some security problems.
If none of this suggests to you that the healthcare industry needs to adopt biometrics, you may have a beef with Raymond Aller, MD, director of informatics at the University of Southern California. In an interview with Healthcare IT News, Dr. Aller argues that our current system of text-based patient identification is actually dangerous, and puts patients at risk of improper treatments and even death. He sees biometric technologies as a badly needed, precise means of patient identification.
What’s more, biometrics can be linked up with patients’ EMR data, making sure the right history is attached to the right person. One health system, Novant Health, uses technology registering a patient’s fingerprints, veins and face at enrollment. Another vendor is developing software that will notify the patient’s health insurer every time that patient arrives and leaves, steps which are intended to be sure providers can’t submit fradulent bills for care not delivered.
As intriguing as these possibilities are, there are certainly some issues holding back the use of biometric approaches in healthcare. And many are exposed, such as Apple’s Touch ID, which is vulnerable to spoofing. Not only that, storing and managing biometric templates securely is more challenging than it seems, researchers note. What’s more, hackers are beginning to target consumer-focused fingerprint sensors, and are likely to seek access to other forms of biometric data.
Fortunately, biometric security solutions like template protection and biocryptography are becoming more mature. As biometric technology grows more sophisticated, patients will be able to use bio-data to safely access their medical records and also pay their bills. For example, MasterCard is exploring biometric authentication for online payments, using biometric data as a password replacement. MasterCard Identity Check allows users to authenticate transactions via video selfie or via fingerprint scanning.
As readers might guess from skimming the surface of biometric security, it comes with its own unique security challenges. It could be years before biometric authentication is used widely in healthcare organizations. But biometric technology use is picking up speed, and this year may see some interesting developments. Stay tuned.