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Majority of Americans want biometrics for health record access and sharing, Pew survey finds


healthcare patient identity governance biometric authentication

Biometrics are the first choice of patient health record identifier by 54 percent of American adults, according to a survey by The Pew Charitable Trust, and they want the federal government to take action to make it easier for them to share their electronic health data.

A majority of more than 1,200 people surveyed by Pew want to be able to share electronic health records (EHRs), and 61 percent would like to be able to download their own health data.

There is a significant split along racial lines, as 58 percent of White Americans chose biometrics as their identifier of choice, compared to 50 percent of Hispanics and 41 percent of Black respondents. The modality the highest number are comfortable with is fingerprint biometrics, with 32 percent saying they are “very comfortable” with the technology, and an additional 33 percent reporting they are somewhat comfortable with it. More than 50 percent are at least somewhat comfortable with “eye scans” and facial recognition, though only 21 percent and 18 percent are very comfortable with those biometric modalities, respectively.

More than a quarter (27 percent) say they would be very comfortable with a unique number or code, while 39 percent would be somewhat comfortable with that kind of credential, giving it the highest overall comfort score. Health care providers using a smartphone app to match individuals to patient records would be fine with 22 percent, and somewhat fine with another 31 percent.

Enabling different healthcare systems caring for the same patient to share information between their HER systems is supported by 81 percent of Americans. Roughly three-quarters want the federal government to set national standards for patient matching, and two-thirds, including majorities of both Democrats and Republicans, want the government to invest in patient matching.

Congress explicitly barred the Department of Health and Human Services from funding a national patient ID system more than 20 years ago, but a bipartisan effort was recently launched to reverse the federal government’s position.

Patients want to have access to their information through an app, Pew found, though when informed that data downloaded to an app might fall outside of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy protections, 9 out of 10 expressed some concern.

Pew says it will conduct more research on biometrics “to understand how they work in other fields and what lessons could be learned for using them to support data exchange, maintain privacy, and promote equity in health care,” writes Ben Moscovitch, project director for Health Information Technology at Pew.

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