Patient Photo Identification
When patients approach a Healthcare institution, they come with specific problems and complaints; each of which requires individual attention. However, unlike a private medical practitioner or a small outpatient clinic, in a hospital or any large institute, the point of the first contact for a patient is the registration desk. Here, they are identified and sorted out based on their immediate needs or preferences, and then directed to the appropriate medical specialist, be it a physician, surgeon, obstetrician or others. Consequently, there is a huge responsibility on the institution in terms of positive patient identification. This is most important for the following reasons-
- To ensure Patient safety and confidentiality
- To eliminate any chances of fraudulent activities
- To remove any treatment errors due to wrong identification
This is where the role of Patient Photo ID, given at the time of registration, comes in. With the evolution of newer technologies, the medical industry is also evolving by imbibing the best of what is available in the e-market. Patient Photo ID applications are the upcoming software services that allow the healthcare management to take a picture of every patient at the time of their admission or registration, and integrate it with the electronic medical records of the patient. Numerous studies have come up in the past few years that indicate the importance of proper patient identification, its application, and advantages over the existing system.
In technological terms, getting a patient photo ID is a relatively simple process and does not require any special equipment or hardware other than a webcam. The quality of picture taken depends on the webcam hardware- the more the resolution of the camera, the better is the image quality. The integration of the image with the patient data is done using the DICOM (digital imaging and communication in medicine) format. There are many software companies that provide solutions for conversion of a normal image format (.JPG) into DICOM. These solutions usually do not require any additional support and are compatible with most existing registration software. Some service providers can be found online, and include EasyID solutions, Precision document solutions(PDS), UW Health, etc.
Recently, a more innovative approach is coming to light in the form of barcoded photo wristbands. This is an answer for a problem that has existed in the medical field since time immemorial. For the patients that are not able to identify themselves- like the mentally challenged individuals, children and sometimes elderly- these photo wristbands can be the ideal solution. They allow the doctors to identify the patient (i.e., they know who they are treating) before every line of management, keep track of patient’s course of treatment as well as prevent any error during investigations or treatment.
Rationale for Use
Use of Patient photo ID during the registration or admission to the hospital is being advocated increasingly by the healthcare management institutes, around the globe. There have been a few studies in this area to analyze the impact of using photo IDs for patients. For example,
- A study conducted by Daniel Hyman and colleagues, in Children’s Hospital Colorado, found that errors in patients identification dropped significantly after implementing a patient photo verification system in their Electronic Health Records (EHR). They also verified the number of “near-miss” cases- where the treatment or test was meant for another patient but was caught by some health professional- reduced to almost zero after using photo IDs.
- Michael Trader, President, and Co-Founder of RightPatient®, posted on his blog in November 2016, that to achieve accurate patient identification is an essential aspect of healthcare management as it “ensures patient safety as well as cost effective care delivery”. He proposed that along with a patient photo, other biometric parameters can also be incorporated into the registration system to improve the accuracy of the identification.
- In another study published by S. Ramamurthy and colleagues in 2013, they talked about ‘the concept, benefits, and general architecture for acquiring, storing, and displaying digital photographs along with medical imaging examinations.’They discuss a specific implementation built around an Android-based system for simultaneously acquiring digital photographs along with portable radiographs. This would mean less hassle for a radiologist and reduced chances of a wrong investigation being performed on any patient.
Although there has been rapid digitalization across the healthcare industry in last few decades, not enough attention has been paid to biometric parameters, including patient’s image. It is being increasingly realized nowadays many healthcare organizations that implementing patient photo ID in the registration process makes the further management smoother and free of errors. Hence, these organizations are encouraging use of these IDs and dedicating their time and resources in generating awareness about this system among medical professionals as well as the community using their services.
Most hospitals use a webcam based system to generate a patient’s photograph at the time of admission or their first outpatient visit. These images are then verified against a government approved ID of the person to eliminate any chances of fraudulent activity. The patient can use any of the following as proof for their ID:
- Current driver’s license
- Government-issued identification card
- Tribal identification card
- International Travel Passport
- Employment card
- Student identification card
- Voter’s ID card
Once their identity is verified, the patient is provided with a unique identification number displayed along with their photo on their I-cards, wristbands or other places throughout the course of their workup.
Having a system that generates a patient photo ID has countless pros for the hospital. Also, having a patient photo ID provides certain benefits to the patient as well.
- For a Hospital or a healthcare organization, the following advantages can be listed-
○ Reduction of treatment errors- the chances of doctors and nurses giving treatment to a patient that was intended for another patient, are reduced to next to nothing. This is usually the case if there are patients who share same names, or who simply happen to reply to a wrong call.
○ Identification of patients who are unable to identify themselves- pediatric, psychiatric and certain geriatric patients pose a difficulty identifying themselves. If found unattended, their Photo IDs can help the medical staff to take care of them in the right way. In the case of pediatric and dependent patients, the photo of the guardian can be taken at the time of admission that would help eliminate unnecessary visits to the patient.
○ Cost-effectiveness of the care provided- installing simple inexpensive hardware (webcam) and relatively less pricey software that can be used with minimal training, helps reduce the mis-administrations of costly tests and drugs to the wrong patients.
○ Prompt identification at the time of disaster management or mass casualties- providing a photo ID to all the patients that are admitted during a disaster helps the medical staff in providing them with efficient care and making sure who they are treating.
○ Decreased lawsuits against the institute- every year, a majority of lawsuits filed against hospitals and healthcare organizations are due to treatment errors caused by improper identification of the patients that lead to harmful outcomes. Positive patient identification using their photos before administering any treatment will definitely save the hospital’s reputation and preserve the clientele.
- For a patient, the system entails the given benefits-
○ Safety from fraud- having a photograph integrated with their medical records provides security against identity thefts, insurance frauds and other mischievous elements that may otherwise use a patient’s data for illegal purposes.
○ Receiving correct treatment- having a photo ID protects the patient from getting improper treatments or tests, intended for some other patient.
○ Freedom to change/remove the photo- the system is flexible and easily customizable to meet the needs of a patient at any time. They may request a change or remove their photo from the database at any time they want.
Almost all the technologies are said to have an upside and a downside. However, there is hardly any disadvantage of using a patient photo ID. In no way does it affect the patient or the organization adversely. It is inexpensive, does not require any special equipment to operate, and it is easy to handle as well as secure to use. The only concern that a hospital might have is the inadvertent disclosure of a patient’s identity and information in case of unprecedented circumstances like hacking into their database, which is far-fetched.
Across the world, the awareness about using Patient Photo ID is increasing. Many medical organizations are implementing the system to ensure more cost-effective means of delivering health care. Some world-renowned institutes have endorsed this system and others are employing it in pilot phases.
- Stanford Hospitals & Clinics (USA) started patient photo project in March 2014, where they generated photo ID for all patient admitted in the Emergency Department. Over the next year, they rolled out to include all other departments throughout their healthcare organization.
- Children’s Hospital Colorado (USA) was one of the first hospitals to study the impact of the patient photo verification and has served as an example for numerous institutions to endorse the Patient Photo ID system.
- PinnacleHealth (Pennsylvania, USA) is a private, non-profit healthcare organization that has recently introduced Patient Photo ID and verification in their registration system. However, they give their patients the choice of getting a photo ID. The patient is free to decline or defer the request, though they are encouraged to use it for their own protection.
In the near future, capturing a patient’s photo during registration can be supplemented with other biometric data, for example, dermatoglyphics (fingerprints), retinal scans, etc. The technology that digitizes biometric parameters is out there in the market and is being used by many enterprises. Although the healthcare industry does not seem to realize the potential uses of the Biometrics so far, the newer trends and research show the expanding domain might touch the medical industry in the coming future.
- Hyman, D., Laire, M., Redmond, D., & Kaplan, D. W. (2012, 06). The Use of Patient Pictures and Verification Screens to Reduce Computerized Provider Order Entry Errors. Pediatrics, 130(1). doi:10.1542/peds.2011-2984
- Trader, J. (2016, November 09). Why Patient Photos Should Be Linked to Medical Records. Retrieved January 31, 2017, from http://www.rightpatient.com/blog/patient-photos-linked-medical-records/
- Ramamurthy S, Bhatti P, Arepalli CD, Salama M, Provenzale JM, Tridandapani S. Integrating Patient Digital Photographs with Medical Imaging Examinations. Journal of Digital Imaging. 2013;26(5):875-885. doi:10.1007/s10278-013-9579-6.
- Hammerstorm, G. (2014, March). Say cheese: Patient photos being added to the medical record. Retrieved January 31, 2017, from https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2014/03/say-cheese-patient-photos-being-added-to-medical-record.htmlhttps://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2014/03/say-cheese-patient-photos-being-added-to-medical-record.html.