Why are US hospitals choosing iris biometrics for patient identification?

The infinite power of human imagination can help utilize what biometrics technologies may look like. Today one of these technologies, iris recognition, has finally been realized.

First of all, why iris? For one, the iris is a part of the body that doesn’t change its appearance over the span of a person’s lifetime; unless it’s damaged by an external force. Iris recognition is different from other biometrics technologies, considering that its target almost permanently remained in the same form that it was first registered. Iris patterns are also unique. Genetically identical twins have different iris patterns and even the patterns of one person’s two eyes are different from each other. Even if you take the entire humanity that ever lived on earth into account, it is very unlikely that the two irises have an identical pattern. These characteristics make iris a good biometric to identify people.


The way iris recognition work is very interesting. The first stage of iris recognition technology is having a person’s eyes scanned. In general, it uses infrared camera to capture the pattern of the Iris, which is then isolated from the rest of the Image, analyzed and put in a system of coordinates. What you get from these coordinates is digital information when you extract it. Such encrypted iris signatures cannot be restored or reproduced even if it is disclosed. The user only needs to make quick eye contact with the infrared camera whenever he or she needs authentication for any specific task.

Iris biometric technology is being used for moving forward, the technology has actually been in the news and fields that require a high level of security. The use of iris biometric will certainly make a great leap forward as a safe and easy authentication system in the IoT(Internet of Things) era. It can be popularized for broader applications where an authentication process is necessary; for hospital’s identification, as an example.

US hospitals are exponentially relying on iris biometric system for the collection and research of patient information and the outcomes have been highly positive. A research based on US hospitals from 2018 says that 8,614 (98%) of 8,794 new patients were assigned to a unique ID on their first visit within 55 weeks. Among which, 6,078 patients made a return visit and the system correctly re-identified patient’s IDs 5,234 times (86%). The false match rate (mismatching one patient’s ID with another) was 0·5%. Overall, 9 (0·1%) agreed to enroll but declined to have an iris scan. Privacy and confidentiality were the main reasons for denying iris scan- according to the research paper.

Keely Aarnes, IT director at Northwell Health, N.Y., states that they always see a lot of duplicate medical records created during the scheduling process. They want to drive an identification process where perhaps a selfie is taken as another verification to ensure the appropriate record is located. She believes there’s an opportunity to enhance the workflow in their digital patient experience by linking iris recognition system to their patient records. “We intend to test these use cases in our Innovation Center where we have setup a mock-patient patient experience environment.” she said. If the patient is enrolled in iris biometrics system, the record can be accessed immediately, which is necessary in today’s quick registration process. On many occasions, patient’s registration does not have enough information to link to his/her enterprise master patient index number. Consequently, the clinician does not have access to the history and can’t continue to care. By enrolling patient into biometrics, data acquisition process happens upfront where time is dear-bought.


What’s amusing, is that we will continue to see new biometric approaches introduced in coming years as other competitors may seek to commercialize any physiological approach that is unique. While things such as DNA are used more for forensic purposes, a scenario that uses real-time verification of DNA using saliva is certainly theoretically possible within half of the next decade. To handle such competition at ease, it is mandatory to tune iris biometrics time to time. Healthcare organizations at US are depending on iris biometric tech to provide seamless service while offering a compatible registration system which is safe, authentic and acceptable for both sides. So keeping the rate of accuracy at admissible level will be an essential task for this tech’s providers.

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