American Family Children's Hospital

UW Health Offers SAFE Patient Identification

MADISON - The same technology that makes your TV remote control work is now in use at all UW Health clinics to provide safe and accurate identification of patients.


Using near-infrared light, the new palm-vein scanning system identifies patients through the blood-flow pattern through the veins in the palm of their hand.  UW Health has dubbed the system SAFE (Secure, Accurate, Fast, Efficient) patient identification system to describe its key attributes.


Palm scanning is more accurate than either fingerprints or a personal-identification number. It helps ensure patient safety by identifying each patient quickly and accurately and matching that patient to his or her electronic health record.  It is especially useful in a large system with multiple patients with the same name.


“If you type in the name 'Mark Johnson,' for example, almost 130 matches come up in our system," said Mike Sauk, chief information officer for UW Hospital and Clinics. "Patients with the same name and even the same birthdate exist. We chose to implement this system because safe care starts with accurate patient identification, and palm-vein scanning is so precise it can even distinguish between identical twins."


Patients coming to UW Health will be asked to present photo identification the first time and then to place their palm on the scanner for less than a minute so the pattern of blood flow can be captured. The scan is stored digitally, not as an image, so it is secure and cannot be stolen. The scan is not stored with the medical record and patients' health information is not stored within the data file.


UW Health is the first health system in Wisconsin to use the SAFE system. Several other health systems on the two coasts have activated the system. In Japan, the banking industry uses palm scanning because it is more secure than a personal-identification number.


Patients can choose not to be scanned, and they will still receive care using traditional forms of identification. UW Health will encourage use of the system because it is more safe and secure than current ID methods, however.


UW Health to date has enrolled more than 11,300 patients at its emergency department, hospital and clinics since introducing the system in mid-October.



Date Published: 10/14/2010

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