Experts have mixed views about the benefits of biometric scanning technology, the New York Times reports.
Benefits of the Technology
Some hospitals, such as New York University Langone Medical Center, have begun using facial-recognition software and palm scan technology to identify and more efficiently manage their patients.
Kathryn McClellan -- vice president of NYU's medical center -- said that biometric technology helps hospital staff identify the correct electronic health record for patients with common names or multiple EHRs from being treated at different facilities.
Risks of the Technology
However, consumer advocates say that using unique biometric identifiers -- such as fingerprints, facial dimensions and vein patterns -- can increase the risk of identity theft.
Joel Reidenberg -- a professor at Fordham University Law School who specializes in data privacy -- said that recent incidents at NYU medical center in which computers or USB drives containing unencrypted patient data were lost or stolen suggest that patients' risk of identity theft might increase with the use of biometric scanning.
However, McClellan said the chance of identity theft at NYU is minimal because palm scans are turned into encrypted strings of binary code and stored in a server separate from EHRs
Consumer advocates also argue that hospitals that compile biometric data often do not explain privacy risks to patients or inform them that obtaining the data is optional.
In addition, leading identity experts -- who say that they currently see little value in palm scans for patients -- suggest that if medical facilities are going to use biometric data, they also should enhance patient privacy measures. For example, they recommend that lower-ranking medical personnel not be able to look at an EHR without the patient being present and approving its review (Singer, New York Times, 11/10).