Patient misidentification is a huge problem, and biometric technology holds the solution

Patient misidentification is on the rise and can have deadly consequences. Find out more about this problem, and why facial biometrics are the solution.

In the United States and across the globe, healthcare and computers are inextricably linked. And most patients assume that check-in procedures ensure that all diagnoses, prescriptions, and test results will be linked to their identity and properly compiled in their medical records.

Sadly, it doesn’t always work that way. Patient misidentification is a growing concern, and the consequences can be fatal. It’s time for healthcare organizations to double down on ensuring positive patient identification, because accurate patient identification is so critical to the delivery of care.

How can they do that? With biometric patient identification technology.

Why is patient misidentification so common?

The increased demand for medical care during and after the pandemic, combined with a nationwide nursing shortage, has healthcare systems strained and stretched thin. Consequently, mistakes happen. Manual patient identification methods, like names and dates of birth, are also easily prone to errors that lead to duplicate records. Sometimes errors are due to staff mistakes, and sometimes patients provide outdated and incorrect information.

Even when information is accurate and entered correctly, identifiers like names and dates aren't always unique to one patient. Furthermore, manual identification methods don’t easily facilitate data exchange between providers or healthcare systems. Relying on manual processes in an increasingly connected healthcare landscape hinders continuity of care. It also makes providers and patients more susceptible to identity theft and fraud.

The problem of duplicate records and insurance claim denials

In addition to a strained healthcare ecosystem, the widespread merging of healthcare providers and systems contributes to the increase in duplicate patient records. Ten percent of patient records at the average hospital are duplicates, according to The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). Other research studies back up the number. But a 2021 Black Book study reports that an average of 24% of healthcare organization records are duplicates.

Duplicate patient records lead to patient misidentification, which creates massive financial burdens for healthcare providers. Rates of accurately matching patients to their medical records can be just 80% within a single care setting, and as low as 50% in organizations that share electronic health information. According to Black Book, approximately 35% of denied claims are a result of inaccurate patient identification. This leads to an average annual cost of $2.5 million per hospital, and $6.5 billion across the US health system. Another study estimates the average per-hospital loss to be $17.4 million annually.

Tragic consequences for patients resulting from misidentification

The consequences of patient misidentification are more than just financial. Imagine a patient named Sarah. She undergoes routine blood tests to monitor her cholesterol levels. Unfortunately, due to a clerical error, her test results are mixed up with another patient's. As a result, Sarah's cholesterol levels are misinterpreted as high, leading to unnecessary medication. It takes several weeks to discover the error, causing Sarah unnecessary stress and inconvenience. While this error had relatively minor consequences, it highlights the dangers of patient misidentification, as errors related to more severe diagnoses, like cancer, can have devastating effects on patient health and treatment outcomes.

One small error can cost a life. In fact, medical errors are the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer.

Patient misidentification can lead to treatment delays, misdiagnosis, medication errors, and privacy breaches. Identification errors put patients a risk and work against healthcare organizations already struggling to survive.

So, what can be done to remedy this problem and its catastrophic consequences?

Facial biometrics: the solution for patient misidentification

Now is one of those times in history when a technology is invented or advanced in response to a pressing need. Facial recognition technology increases accurate patient identification, reduces duplicate records, and improves data integrity.

Facial recognition technology isn't new — many people already use it to securely access their smartphones. What is new is advancing and implementing this technology for healthcare. The distinctive characteristics of a face, such as the distance between the eyes, can be used to create a unique identifier for accurate patient identification. This unique identifier can be linked to patients’ digital records, reducing duplicates and creating a more comprehensive and standardized electronic health record (EHR).

Biometric patient identification dramatically increases efficiency and helps organizations realize more value from their electronic health record (EHR) system. Touchless verification and patient record matching streamlines patient check-ins and reduce duplicate records. This not only saves time for patients, but also enables clinicians to maximize the benefits of the EHR while improving patient safety. Facial recognition also avoids human error and protects patient privacy by eliminating manual identification.

Safeguarding patients and providers with biometrics

More healthcare organizations are adopting mobile devices to streamline workflows and improve access to patient information. And many are using facial biometrics for secure, passwordless, mobile authentication for clinicians. This quick, simple solution means security protocols are no longer a hindrance that clinicians often work around in unsecure ways. Instead, security hinges on a simple step that integrates with what clinicians are already doing — looking at their mobile screens.

Plus, millions of smartphone users already trust facial biometrics to protect the personal data in their phones – it isn’t much of a leap to trust the technology with their protected health information (PHI). Biometrics can not only revolutionize patient identification, but also advance patient safety, security, and privacy.

Biometrics in 2024 and beyond

Facial biometric identification is a convenient, accessible, and intuitive solution. It improves data accuracy, streamlines workflows, optimizes EHR systems, and enhances patient safety. It also improves patient experience in a very straightforward way — by reducing patient wait times. Research shows that 84% of healthcare consumers report wait time at the doctor’s office as either “somewhat important” or “very important” to their overall patient experience.

As facial biometric technology continues to advance, it will play a key role in reducing patient misidentification and improving the quality of patient care. Read our datasheet on Imprivata Biometric Patient Identity to learn about our first-of-its-kind facial recognition and record matching technology.