As identity theft becomes a growing concern, some hospitals are harnessing fingerprint reading devices to alleviate any threats.

While many hospitals are taking steps to secure their IT systems — more than 80 percent perform an infrastructure security assessment at least once a year, according to the H&HN Most Wired survey — others also are securing the physical point of registration.

Holzer Health System, Gallipolis, Ohio, installed fingerprint readers to connect patients to the medical records and avoid mixing up those with similar names.

Brent Saunders, chairman of the board of directors, says the two-hospital system hadn’t yet experienced such thefts, but wasn’t inclined to wait around for the first. “We didn’t want to end up in that particular circumstance,” he says. “We needed to find a way to instantly verify patients’ identities, and link them immediately with their medical benefits and records to make sure the right person is receiving the right care.”

All told, Holzer has placed the fingerprint readers at more than 100 points of registration across the entire organization. Patients are asked to opt in as part of the program, and there was initial concern that many would avoid using the tool, Saunders says. But thus far, Holzer has seen a 95 percent acceptance rate, with more than 500,000 patient encounters filtered through the biometric technology.

Holzer’s service area has struggled with opiate abuse issues, and the system wanted to add a means to verify that the right patient was picking up the right prescription. Saunders believes they’ve made a dent; there’s been a 15 percent drop in opiate prescriptions in Gallipolis.

Floyd Memorial Hospital, New Albany, Ind., finished rolling out fingerprint scanners at the end of October. It has filtered more than 1,400 encounters through the devices, which scan a patient’s right index finger as if ringing a doorbell. The hospital sees the technology as something patients appreciate, says Angie Rose, director of marketing. “From a consumer standpoint, you show good faith that you are putting something in place that adds an extra layer of security for the patient, and I think that’s something that you can be proud of,” she says.