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Biometric technology lets BayCare Health System protect more than patients' health

Jim Schwamb is a vice president at BayCare Health System, where advanced technology is being used to identify patients.


Jim Schwamb is a vice president at BayCare Health System, where advanced technology is being used to identify patients.

Along with the growing concern about financial identity theft is rising anxiety about the pilfering of your medical identity.

BayCare Health System, based in Clearwater, offers a noninvasive technique to help combat the trend. BayCare is the first in the state and among the first in the nation to use a scanner that simply identifies you by the veins in the palm of your hand — a unique identifier just like your fingerprint.

BayCare, with 18,300 team members in the Tampa Bay area, is composed of 11 not-for-profit hospitals, outpatient facilities and other services such as imaging, lab, behavioral health and home health care. The system counted about 2.4 million patient encounters in 2009.

The Times talked with Jim Schwamb, vice president of financial services for BayCare, about the company and the use of the groundbreaking technology.

Medical identity theft has become another troubling form of consumer fraud. What is medical identity theft and what kinds of problems is it creating for consumers and the health care industry?

Medical identity theft involves using someone else's identity and insurance coverage to access health care services. It is sometimes difficult for hospitals to catch identity theft because we treat all patients, many times in emergency situations and sometimes without identification to verify their identity.

While rare, victims of identity theft may have their insurance company incorrectly billed and then begin to receive bills from the provider. In such a situation, the providers would not hold the victim liable once they were notified. As health care providers move to electronic medical records, and previous medical histories are immediately available to care givers, identity theft could also intermingle with medical information and become a patient safety issue if not discovered.

BayCare now uses some cutting-edge technology to help combat medical identity theft. How does the technology work?

BayCare's Patient Secure Identity (PSI) is a biometric technology that identifies patients through special features of the veins in the palm that are unique identifiers for each individual. Patients initially enroll by using a photo ID and other verification data. Once enrolled, patients no longer have to give their Social Security or photo ID when accessing any BayCare facility for services.

When the patient arrives, he/she puts her right palm on a reader, and it immediately identifies him/her accurately in our database and brings up the correct record. Anyone in the future who attempts to use the identity of someone who is enrolled in PSI will be rejected when his/her palm is read. Palm Vein (also known as vascular recognition) was originally invented by Fujitsu for identity purposes, such as access to a vault or ATM.

What are the advantages of using the technology?

The patient experiences a quick registration with fast and simple return visits anywhere in BayCare's system. The PSI system allows for greater accuracy with less information shared, so there is less chance of duplicate patient records or the misuse of Social Security numbers and insurance cards. PSI integrates with our electronic medical record system, so the patients' records are brought up with the scan of their palm. Patients also can be quickly identified in case of an emergency, without having to say anything.

Was there any particular issue that prompted BayCare to move toward this technology?

Over the past several years, we listened to our patients' concern about medical identity theft and their wish to not provide sensitive identifying information, such as Social Security number, each time they access our facilities.

How have patients reacted to use of this technology? And what can we expect in terms of future steps to protect consumer medical records?

The response from our patients has been overwhelmingly positive. We have enrolled 360,000 patients in the first year and a half of the PSI program and the patients' compliance rate is over 99 percent. We are evaluating adding patients' photos to our PSI database in the future to make the identification process even stronger.

Ivan Penn can be reached at or (727) 892-2332. Follow him on Twitter at and become a fan of the Consumer's Edge on Facebook.

Biometric technology lets BayCare Health System protect more than patients' health 03/28/10 [Last modified: Monday, March 29, 2010 10:03am]
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