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By Alex Ruoff
March 5 --As health records become increasingly digitized, health-care organizations, particularly large hospital systems, are struggling to properly match patients to their electronic data and encourage patients to access that data online, Peter Tippett, chief medical officer and vice president of Verizon Health Solutions, the company's health IT division, told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 28.
Verizon is hoping that its universal identity technologies can solve the health-care industry's patient identification issues, Tippett said. Both problems, he said, have the same solution, a universal identity service that can authenticate and verify patients' identities using their smartphone or another mobile device.
“Our long-term goal is to make usernames and passwords disappear entirely,” Tippett said. “We want hospitals to allow you to sign up and log onto your patient portal without an ID or a password. You point your phone at the screen and you're connected to your records.”
A patient's identity can be authenticated this way both when they receive care and when they access their health information online outside a health-care setting, Tippett said.
Verizon's universal identity service is a downloadable software tool that uses multifactor authentication to verify users by combining a preset username and password with a mobile device that generates a one-time password or a biometric scan, such as fingerprint recognition, Tippett said.
Verizon has yet to deploy its cloud-based identity service technologies in a hospital setting, he said, but believes it has a wide range of uses for health care.
He said because the technology is designed to meet the two-factor authentication requirements designed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, health-care providers can use it to reduce the burden of e-prescribing through their EHRs.
Under federal laws, so-called schedule II substances, drugs with accepted medical uses but strong potential for abuse, can only be prescribed electronically if the prescriber's EHR or e-prescribing system is secured by a two-factor authentication service, meaning prescribers must twice verify their identity before they can electronically prescribe a schedule II substance. Many states, such as Alabama, have laws that further restrict e-prescribing of controlled substances.
“EHRs and e-prescribing have been a big productivity [reducer] because of the security around them,” Tippett said. “We can give doctors some of that productivity back by allowing them to just wave their smartphones and move on.”
The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT considers patient identification and authentication a safety issue for the health-care industry, Karen DeSalvo, the national coordinator for health IT, said Feb. 27 at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society's Annual Conference in Orlando, Fla.
She said health-care providers “must have accurate data” in order to effectively use health IT to treat patients.
In December 2013, the ONC released findings from a six-month study that identified best practices used in the private sector and by federal agencies to accurately match patients to their data. The study included recommendations for electronic health record systems for the standardization of data attributes and identifiers, identification of duplicate records and establishment of patient matching algorithms.
However, ONC officials warned in the study that a universal patient identifier is not the panacea that some have claimed it to be for patient identification. The study said issuing patients' 16-digit identification numbers only properly matched patients in roughly 90 percent of attempts.
The federal government is prohibited by law from funding any project that establishes a universal patient identifier.
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