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July 27, 2011

Palm Reader or Not, Palm Scans Establishing Patient Identity at NYU Medical Center

The next time you visit the NYU Medical Center, don’t be surprised when they tell you to stick out your hand. No, they’re not about to rob you. They’re using a new way to get access to patient information and medical records.

How? They’re scanning palms, according to a story by Mike Flacy at

It’s called a “biometric identification” system and it’s designed to make less paperwork, wait times shorter, and eliminate identify theft, according to the story. It does all this by reading vein patterns of a patient with infrared light, Flacy writes. The palm reader is manufactured by PatientSecure and works so well because it “is approximately 100 times more unique than fingerprints, according to the chief of hospital operations at NYU,” Flacy writes.

Financial identity theft is the fastest growing crime, according to and statistics show there are over 15 million victims a year and over $50 billion in damages, according to Flacy points out that medical identity theft isn’t far behind. 

In a story by Isaac Wolf at, an estimated 1.5 million Americans overall are affected by this kind of fraud, according to estimates from Ponemon. The crime can be the difference between life and death. Wolf tells about a patient who nearly received a transfusion of the wrong kind of blood – a life-threatening mix-up – because of an identity error. Medical identity theft can alter your medical records, compromising your care. Other causes of medical identity theft are more malevolent, like getting access to pharmaceuticals or fraudulent insurance payouts.

But hospitals across the country are finding that using palm scanners is solving part of the problem. To use the scanner, patients must first fill out preliminary paperwork and then have a scan created of the veins in either hand, Flacy writes. Once that’s done, no more need to produce proof of health insurance or an identification card, and also, no more paperwork to complete, especially useful if someone without identification arrives at the hospital in an unconscious state, according to the story.

However, there’s a catch:  patients have to be taken to the same hospital for this system to work, Flacy writes, because information between hospitals isn’t shared and palm scans aren’t tied to medical records.

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Deborah DiSesa Hirsch is an award-winning health and technology writer who has worked for newspapers, magazines and IBM in her 20-year career. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell
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