Ohio patients, providers get accurate health records at their fingertips

With one touch, Akron General patients now can be connected to their electronic health records using a fingerprint scanner.

In November, Akron General began installing SafeChx, a patient identification technology, throughout its major registration areas.

The fingerprint scanners aim to prevent medical identify fraud, improve patient outcomes and eliminate duplicate records, which can be created with misspellings or typos. Up to 10% of all medical records are duplicates, according to CrossChx, a Columbus-based company offering healthcare identity software including SafeChx.

“We want to make sure that we don't have duplicate medical records either, because that also slows down the treatment of the patient,” said Stacy Ickes, director of patient access for Akron General.

CrossChx, founded in 2012, offers SafeChx to hospitals at no cost, including installation, training and support. Since the state of Ohio provided funding for the pilot, CrossChx has grown through venture capital investments and revenue earned from premium applications, according to Brad Mascho, co-founder and president of CrossChx.

Ickes said there have been a few instances where the scanners could not read a fingerprint, but the vast majority of patients have opted into the technology and had no problems.

SafeChx has been collecting several hundred new fingerprint IDs a day at Akron General. Once patients are enrolled, which takes about 30 seconds, they can use the technology immediately. Each day, a couple dozen returning patients use their fingerprint to check in.

Staff still check patients' names and birthdays like always — and can continue to use that for those who can't or don't want to use their fingerprint — but SafeChx helps them do a better job at instantly identifying patients.

“It reduces the risk of fraudulent claims and medical errors due to misidentification,” Ickes said.

Cutting the error rate

While some other area hospitals have embraced biometric technology, they've kept it on the employee end rather than expanding it to all patients.

For several years, MetroHealth has been using biometric technology to prevent medical errors.

Employee fingerprint scanners help ensure patients receive the correct medications, said Donald Reichert, vice president and chief information officer for MetroHealth. Each floor with in-patient rooms has a unit for dispensing medications, where nurses and other providers must go through a series of security measures, including a fingerprint scan.

A thumb print and password logs users into a screen that shows only the patients on that floor. The system links to a patient's records, including any drug order from the doctor. Once a medication is selected, a drawer — divided into a series of individual compartments — will open. Only the door containing what was ordered opens.

In a patient's room, the barcodes on the single-dose medication packet and on the patient's wrist are scanned into the computer to ensure a match. Alerts will flash on the screen if the drug or its dosage weren't ordered.

These measures, starting with a fingerprint scan, help prevent human error and identify any intentional abuses, Reichert said. Someone overriding the alerts or repeatedly entering barcodes manually instead of scanning could send up red flags.

Similar measures are in place for breast milk and blood.

“I think it improves certainly the safety,” Reichert said. “If we're administering drugs or blood, (we're) making sure that we're dealing with the right patient and giving them the right medications or whatever that the physicians ordered, and we make sure that it's safe.”

Indexing data

MetroHealth hasn't gotten to the point of using patient biometrics for identification.

“Not that we couldn't — I'm sure we could — but we have not moved in that direction,” Reichert said.

MetroHealth's IT department is testing retinal scanners for computers, which he sees as the direction biometric technology is headed. Reichert said he's looking to test products as more information is available about the benefits of biometric technology in healthcare.

At Akron General, patients largely have accepted the new scanners, Ickes said. She wants to see as many patients register their fingerprints in the system as possible, not only for ease of records during registration, but also for times when they may not be able to identify themselves.

“So if something would happen that then they would come back and be unresponsive, all we need to do is try their right index finger,” Ickes said.

"Accurate health records are at their fingertips" originally appeared in Crain's Cleveland Business.



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