Are overstated privacy fears holding back biometric patient-matching?

healthcare patient identity governance biometric authentication

How can the U.S. health care industry meaningfully tap biometrics for patient-matching, something that is assumed will be a boon in terms of cost reductions and service improvements?

It is not a hopeless dream, according to a weighty analysis by The Pew Charitable Trust. One of the more surprising points made in the report is that privacy might have become a sacred cow that is preventing progress in patient-matching.

Pew, a nonprofit whose research is designed to help policymakers overcome societal challenges, has isolated eight insights (including the one above) that authors of the new report say U.S. agencies and health care organizations can use to re-orient their uncoordinated and under-delivering efforts.

The report examines 10 biometric ID programs around the world. Most do not directly involve health care.

Pew authors point out some of the obvious hurdles to effective matching, including the hand-waving way that the word biometrics itself often is used. The report says despite welcome advances in the field, it cannot now solve all the problems afflicting matching.

Improvements in technology, regulatory and operational standards are as important today, for example.

And while standards are hashed out, vendors can go back to basics in some instances to create de factor common rules. One example, cited in the Pew report, is the use of raw biometric images rather than proprietary templates, which by definition inhibit interoperability.

But the brow-raising insight is that as important as privacy is — and the authors acknowledge that fact — fetishizing it is slowing progress.

“Perceived benefits in convenience outweigh privacy issues,” they write. Consumers will accept a compromise that cannot be voiced by industry or government without heavy flak from privacy advocates.

Ignored in this analysis is the fact that advocates have a point when it comes to trusting industry.

Data entrepreneurs blithely tell consumers that they assign unrealistic value to their own data. Some of those same innovators, however, are reaping riches from that supposedly over-valued personal data.

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