Biometrics approach offers hands-down security

March 6, 2006

The success of healthcare IT depends on myriad variables that affect the speedy delivery of accurate data, but none is more critical than security. The federal government mandates demand it, and patients and doctors expect it. Attendees at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society meeting in San Diego last month got a hands-on demonstration of how one novel security method might work. It involves neither fingerprints nor the eye.

The success of healthcare IT depends on myriad variables that affect the speedy delivery of accurate data, but none is more critical than security. The federal government mandates demand it, and patients and doctors expect it. Attendees at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society meeting in San Diego last month got a hands-on demonstration of how one novel security method might work. It involves neither fingerprints nor the eye.

PalmSecure, developed by Fujitsu Computer Products of America, records and then recognizes veins in the palm as unique identifiers. The system is being groomed as a means for identifying healthcare providers as well as patients.

It turns out the pattern of veins in the palm is unique in each hand, even between identical twins. People may grow old, and other parts of the anatomy may change, but veins do not.

PalmSecure uses an infrared scanner to capture venous patterns. The deoxidized hemoglobin in the blood vessels absorbs radiation, causing the veins to appear black against a bright background of reflected infrared.

The initial registration process takes about three minutes. Once the person is catalogued, identification is virtually instantaneous and highly accurate. PalmSecure has a 99.99992% level of accuracy and a false rejection rate of 0.01%, according to Fujitsu.

Particularly appealing to healthcare providers is the aseptic nature of PalmSecure. Because the hand never comes in contact with the reader, the identification process poses no danger of transmitting germs. The person simply holds his or her palm over a black box, and the infrared scanner inside does the rest.

The system has been operating for nine months at the University of Tokyo Hospital, ensuring security for the hospital's data center. Outside of medicine, several commercial banks in Japan have integrated the technology into their ATM and debit card systems.

Fujitsu plans to launch the product commercially in North America by midyear.