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How Biometrics Can Transform the Health Care System

It’s no secret that the U.S. health care system is under duress. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recently estimated that total health care spending grew an average of 4.6% in 2017, reaching nearly $3.5 trillion. By 2026, health care spending in the U.S. is expected to grow to $5.7 trillion. That’s a whopping 19.7% of GDP. The U.S. also spends more per person on health than comparable countries. Health spending per person in the U.S. was $10,348 in 2016 – 31% higher than Switzerland, the next highest per capita spender.

The more money we spend on health care, the less we have available to spend on other important programs. Clearly, we need better ways to facilitate and manage the business of health care. Fortunately, biometrics can help us get there. The following are several ways biometrics can be used to help us better contain, and possibly even lower, health care costs.

First, biometrics can help ensure better security — a huge drag on health care expenses. According to the FBI, healthcare fraud – from things like fake billing or duplicate claims — costs taxpayers $80 billion a year. Biometrics can help ensure people are who they say they are, reducing the chances someone’s identity can be stolen and used for fraudulent purposes.

Biometric authentication can also help reduce data breaches. Health care providers keep records of valuable information, making them very attractive targets for cybertheft. A 2017 survey from Accenture found that healthcare data breaches have already affected 26% of U.S. consumers. Additionally, the survey found 50% of those breach victims eventually suffered medical identity theft, with an average of $2,500 out-of-pocket costs. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, the healthcare sector accounted for 43% of all data breaches in 2017. But medical companies that leverage biometric-based security systems remove the incentive for hacks because they no longer deal with data that’s easy to steal or that can easily identify patients.

Biometrics can also help healthcare facilities improve patient identification and patient record maintenance – one of the biggest challenges to any healthcare facility. Medical personnel need to identify patients with 100 percent accuracy so they can provide a precise diagnosis and treatment. Biometric technologies have a much higher accuracy rate than manual processes when it comes to patient identification. And, once patient identity is established using biometrics, there is no need for that patient to carry ID for future visits.

Finally, biometrics have the potential to help people maintain better health. Estimates are that one out of every four dollars employers pay for health care is tied to unhealthy lifestyle choices like smoking, stress or obesity. Today, many people voluntarily wear connected devices to track their steps or sleep patterns. In September, insurance company John Hancock made big news when they announced they would require life insurance policyholders to use wearable devices to record health and fitness data. The company is using the data to reward policyholders for healthy habits like regular exercise. But it wouldn’t be a stretch to use wearable devices to provide physicians with real-time data on medical conditions as well or to conduct regular scans to identify health issues you didn’t even know you had. Earlier identification can lead to earlier treatment, which reduces costs all around.

Of course, mainstreaming biometrics in health care faces a variety of challenges, including privacy, cost, and interoperability. Earlier this month, Pew Charitable Trusts published a report that examined the potential of biometrics for patient matching. And while interviews with consumers and healthcare executives determined that patients “overwhelmingly supported the use of biometrics,” health care providers also expressed several concerns. Healthcare executives told Pew that they anticipate patients will be resistant to biometrics, and that undocumented patient populations could be reluctant to seek care at facilities that use biometrics for fear of being tracked by the government.

Clearly, there are still obstacles to overcome, but the investment is clearly worth it. Biometrics holds significant promise for overcoming some of the enormous challenges – and enormous expenses – our health care system currently faces.

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