October 1, 2007 Engineers have developed a scanner that reads the unique characteristics of the veins under a person's palm. It removes the need for people to show identification or relay sensitive information like a social security number verbally. This near infrared scan assigns a number to a vein pattern and instantly matches it to the right medical records.
A new scanner that analyzes the unique characteristics of the veins under your palm is being used to identify patients when they check-in for doctor visits. This new twist on information technology is helping reduce errors that can lead to potentially deadly medical mistakes.
Tom Butz is checking-in for a routine doctor's appointment. He's enrolling in a new patient registry program that will forever make patient identification more accurate. It's the Palm Vein Sensor.
"The Palm Vein Scanner is simply a technology that utilizes human factors, which is biometric technology, to assign a unique identity to individuals as they're enrolled in the program," says Jim Burke, Director of Information Services at Carolinas Healthcare System in Charlotte, N.C.
An infrared scan of the patient's hand is assigned a number that is instantly matched with the patient's medical record, erasing the need for patients to repeatedly provide confidential information -- like their social security number -- at appointments.
"The advantage really comes in three pieces. There's a service component to the advantage, there's an efficiency component and there's a safety component -- the safety being the most important from a clinical point of view," says Roger Ray, M.D., Chief Medical Officer at Carolinas Healthcare System.
It's information technology access to accurate ID and medical history in an instant.
"With unconscious trauma patients, it's not unusual that we're forced to take care of the patient as a John or Jane Doe for hours. Imagine the power of not having to do that for even a minute because the palm technology tells us who the patient is. It's a very powerful concept," Dr. Ray says.
Another key attribute of the palm scanning system is that a number -- not an image -- is stored with the palm scanner. This eliminates the chance that a patient's information can be stolen or illegally reproduced. Carolinas Healthcare System is the only hospital system is the country to use the palm scanner for patient identification.
The Optical Society of America contributed to the information contained in the video portion of this report.
BACKGROUND: A hospital system based in Charlotte, North Carolina, is installing scanners that identify patients by the unique vein patterns in their hands, virtually eliminating the possibility that personal information could be misused during the patent registration process.
HOW IT WORKS: Carolina HealthCare System is the first known healthcare provider in the US to use the technology, which pairs a palm scanning device made by Fujitsu with a durable cradle and software system that the hospital designed itself. Incoming patients are asked to place their middle finger between two prongs at the top of the cradle to make sure their palm is properly positioned. The scanner uses near-infrared light to map the vein patterns in a patient's palm. The digital image is converted into a number that correlates with the patient's medical records. Vein patterns in a palm are considered more unique than a fingerprint. Since a number, not an image, is stored with the palm scanner, there is no chance an identity could be stolen and illegally reproduced.
BENEFITS: Currently, it's possible for someone to overhear or see sensitive personal information, or use someone else's Social Security number or health insurance card to receive services. It can also be time-consuming to check in at a hospital, filling out paperwork and waiting for staff to enter the information into a computer before a patient receives care. With the new palm scanning system, once a patient's information is collected on the first visit, it is permanently in the system. On subsequent visits, the patient need only provide a birth date and have their palm rescanned to establish a positive identification. In an emergency, a positive identification can be made even if the patient is unconscious.
WHAT IS INFRARED LIGHT? Heat is a form of light, technically known as thermal infrared radiation. Thermal radiation falls just below the range for visible light on the electromagnetic spectrum. It's the reason a stovetop burner glows red: the atoms in the burner are excited by the influx of energy when the burner turns on, causing the emission of photons in that region of the electromagnetic spectrum. All objects radiate heat. Living things emit more heat than, say, a rock, because they must consume energy to stay alive, and this in turn generates heat. Modern night-vision equipment exploits the generation of heat by living bodies by focusing the thermal emissions with a special lens, and transmitting it to IR detectors, which create a detailed pattern based on variations in temperature, called a thermogram. The thermogram is then translated into electrical impulses, and these are analyzed by a computer and sent to the display, which shows the data as various colors depending on the intensity of the IR emission.
Editor's Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.