Correctly identifying patients is a challenge many hospitals face. Fresno, Calif.-based Community Medical Centers is no exception.

“A lot of times patients come into the emergency [department] or the hospital setting without an ID,” says Janet Paul, Community Medical Centers’ vice president of health information management and chief privacy officer.

Then there are patients who provide incorrect or inconsistent information about who they are, says Judi Binderman, M.D., Community Medical Centers’ chief medical informatics officer. Misidentifications jeopardize patient safety, she says.

“We wanted to look at something we could initiate at our registration entry points that would help us better identify the patient, so we could get to the right chart with the right information,” Binderman says.

In August 2016, Community Medical Centers began deploying RightPatient software at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, Clovis Community Medical Center and Fresno Heart & Surgical Hospital on a voluntary basis.

Patients admitted for the first time are asked to look into a small, rectangular mirror so that a staff member can photograph their iris patterns with a high-resolution digital camera. The photo is displayed in the patient’s electronic health record only, and personnel use the eyeprints to match patients to the correct EHR.

The program is strictly voluntary, and patients can decline to have the photos taken. To encourage participation, Community Medical Centers has reached out to patients to explain the purpose behind the program.

“We want the community to understand that we’re doing this because we want to get the right information about them when they’re unable to communicate with us about who they are and what their history is,” Binderman says. “We handed out fliers to patients before we started the program. We give them a flier if they are a new registrant to the system. We have talking points for our registration staff.”

Binderman says 5,200 patients have opted into the program thus far. Of those, none who have returned for additional health services have been misidentified, she says.

Community Medical Centers hopes to have RightPatient software implemented throughout its system by the end of 2017, Binderman says.

RightPatient software is a product of the Atlanta-based RightPatient biometric patient identification service. 

The program is replicable, Binderman says. “The key is using this as your standard registration process, at every entry point where you have patients registering for services.”