The idea of using biometrics in the healthcare sector is not
new, but it is one that hasn’t been explored or exploited to its full
A biometrics-based project was first piloted by health
workers in three South African provinces back in 2005. The project was driven
by the national and provincial health departments and made use of biometric
technology, sponsored by the private sector that allowed for patient
identification using fingerprints. The aim of the project involved establishing
a central “infomediary” to collect and reference key medical information on
behalf of patients.
At the time it was certainly recognised that this kind of
technologically enabled service could boast significant benefits for patients
and public and private healthcare providers, alike. Though regrettably, despite
being sound in its intentions, neither the initial piloted project nor similar
projects that followed have seen widespread adoption and implementation.
Fast-forward fourteen years and today, in the digital age, the
opportunity for widespread implementation of biometrics across the healthcare
sector is not only far greater but bodes two crucial advantages that should not
Improved patient care
Patient identification errors – and especially cases that
lead to a patient receiving inappropriate care – are not only deeply troubling,
but can hold reputational, financial and even legal implications for healthcare
professional and facilities, alike.
Biometric solutions offer an effective tool for patient
identification and authentication – whereby a patient’s medical information can
be matched to a unique identifier such as their fingerprint and stored in a
master database or central patient index. Biometrics are accurate and thereby
more secure than, for instance, scenarios where using an identification number
which may be entered incorrectly during a multiple service provider
registration process or falsifying information can be eliminated and patient
information accuracy improved. Additionally, the patient information stored in
the master database or central patient index can be accessed and used by a
variety of verified and registered health and wellness professionals or
facilities, without each needing to perform biometric enrolment multiple times.
This can create far more streamlined access to up-to-date patient medical
history and thereby lead to improved overall patient care.
Biometrics, in turn, can be implemented by public and
private healthcare facilities for internal purposes in order to identify and
verify healthcare personnel to enable compliance with industry standards
regarding background screening processes, as well as, providing various audit
trails for reporting purposes namely; shift work, payroll and patient
Medical fraud is a growing phenomenon globally – and South
Africa is not unaffected. Speaking at the Council for Medical Schemes’ recent
Fraud, Waste and Abuse Summit, Katlego Mothundi, MD of the Board of Healthcare
Funders of SA (BHF), stated that up to 25% of the money paid by
members as medical scheme contributions or premiums annually is lost due to
fraud, corruption, abuse and wastage. The cumulative monetary loss is estimated
at between R22bn and R28bn a year.
Medical fraud can be as a result of illicit actions by a
health service provider or a patient, with intention to deceive or misrepresent
medical information to the advantage of one party’s individual gain over the
medical scheme provider. However, the significant monetary losses in the
industry is not the only negative or detrimental effect of medical fraud –
fraud can also cause genuine patients to lose out on access to quality care, loss
of medical benefits and/or receiving unnecessary or incorrect treatment or
medication. This can all affect the patients continued health and well-being.
It’s not surprising then that more medical schemes are
deploying advanced data intelligence solutions to mine and discover patterns
and trends in member and provider behaviour, alike. But what if all
authorisations and full medical data pertaining to patients/members and health
and wellness providers could be attached to their individual unique digital signature,
such as a fingerprint.
This would certainly enforce “know your patient” values and,
because the data will be trackable using a biometric digital signature, it
makes it easier for medical schemes to detect trends and thereby significantly
reduce occurrences of medical fraud.
Rapid technological advances – from pervasiveness of the
Internet and adoption of disruptive technologies like cloud, mobility and the
Internet of Things (IoT), for example – continue to facilitate biometrics
adoption. Today, devices and solutions can and are being designed and built to
address specific application needs. In fact, there are already examples of
palm, fingerprint and iris scanning biometric solutions being implemented and
tested across medical and healthcare facilities globally. And, as the local
market follows the curve of this trend, we expect that more widespread adoption
of biometrics with the aim of protecting patients, professionals and medical
scheme providers, alike, is merely a matter of timing.