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Novant’s new iris scan connects patients to records

By Jessica M. Morrison
Correspondent

More Information

  • How Novant uses iris scans

    • The system works by taking a high-resolution photograph of a patient’s face and eye that captures the unique pattern of a patient’s iris.

    • Patients will undergo the same hospital check-in process that they’re used to, but during registration, a registrar will take a photograph that will become part of that patient’s medical record.

    • On future visits, a quick eye scan will direct hospital staff to the correct medical record.


  • Carolinas HealthCare System

    In 2007, Charlotte-area hospitals in Carolinas HealthCare System were among the first in the country to use a technique that relies on palm scanning for identification. The palm scanning devices are currently used in all Carolinas HealthCare locations, including hospital admissions, emergency departments and physician practices.

    More than 1,300 scanners are in place, and 1.5 million patients have enrolled to use palm scanners, according to an email from Carolinas HealthCare spokesman Kevin McCarthy. The palm scanners have been used 10 million times since the program was launched in 2007, he added.



When patients arrive for an appointment at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center, a staff member snaps a quick photo.

But this isn’t like photo for a driver’s license or passport. The focus is on the eyes.

Like something out of a science fiction movie, a new system at Presbyterian links patients to their medical records by scanning their eyes. The system, which the hospital introduced last month, is designed to combat identity mix-ups and theft.

“Someone can steal a driver’s license or a social security number,” said Veronica Rose, a registrar at Presbyterian, “but they can’t get your eyes.”

Hospitals across the country are turning to electronic means of recording medical information and verifying patient identity.

It’s not uncommon for patients with similar names and birth dates arriving at the same hospital to have their medical records confused.

Shortly after the Boston Marathon bombings in April, hospitals struggled to identify patients who’d arrived unconscious and without any identifying information.

And in the most dubious situations, a lost or stolen driver’s license might be used to receive medical care while the victim foots the bill.

The collection of biometric data – a finger or palm print, or face or voice recognition used for identification – has been used for years in law enforcement, banks, schools and clubs.

One of the key benefits is that there’s nothing for patients to remember to bring, such as a driver’s license or insurance card.

But for some, living in the future means discomfort about handing over their privacy. Novant addresses such concerns in letting patients opt out.

Hillary Marsee, 28, of Charlotte is not one of those worried patients. She likes the idea of having all of her medical information collected in one place and linked to the iris of her eye.

“There’s a lot of paperwork and ways that things can go wrong in the hospital. Having this all linked together tidies things up,” said Marsee, one of the approximately 900 patients who have been scanned so far. “But if people think it’s scary, they don’t have to do it.”

The tech-savvy aspect of the iris scanner appealed to Marsee and her husband Matt, 28. It’s also less messy than a fingerprint, he added.

Before choosing an iris scanner, Novant considered a similar system that scans the unique vein pattern found on the palm of a patient’s hand, a system that Carolinas HealthCare System has used since 2007.

Novant preferred an eye scanner because it doesn’t require patients to provide a second piece of information, such as a date of birth, once they’re in the system, said Tate Batson, assistant director of on-site patient access for Novant’s Greater Charlotte market.

Unlike the palm scanner, patients also don’t have to come into contact with any equipment with the iris scanner, Batson said.

For Novant, the new technology represents a $1.1 million investment toward patient safety and security, Batson said. Novant Health will have 150 iris scanning cameras in its hospitals in the Carolinas, Virginia and Georgia.

Novant expects to have the iris scanning devices in all its Charlotte-area hospitals by the end of August.

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