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How digital identity improved infection control during the Covid pandemic

Digital ID and IAM helped hospitals tackle COVID-19, research suggests it could do even more
How digital identity improved infection control during the Covid pandemic

The use of digital identity and identity access management (IAM) technologies in hospital settings during the COVID-19 pandemic improved infection control, clinical care and facility operations, finds original research published in the BMJ Health Care Inform.

Creating simple new checks linked to an ID, such as temperature controls, or using ID data in new ways, such as extrapolating staff infection risk based on where and when they accessed a service, helped hospitals control infection and are areas to improve on further for future outbreaks.

“Facility end-user innovation in how IAM solutions are deployed can improve infection control/ patient safety, care delivery and clinical workflows during surges of epidemic infectious diseases,” concludes the research.

The paper is novel in its selection of digital identity use cases in facility operation, staff access and management and infection control, rather than for patient identification, medical note management and billing, or the denial of healthcare to those without ID. It looks at how hospitals used services in new ways, and how the vendor collated these emerging use cases.

Investigating the use of the technologies in eight settings in the U.S. and UK, the researchers note that there are more use cases as yet unexamined, meaning other possible advantages for digital identity, as well as significant potential for further improvements in clinical care via identity technologies.

Covid-19 Surge Readiness: Use Cases Demonstrating How Hospitals Leveraged Digital Identity Access Management for Infection Control and Pandemic Response,’ by Gellert GA, Kelly SP, Hsiao AL et al, examined eight wide-ranging use cases tackled by a single technology provider, U.S.-based digital identity provider Imprivata, spanning staff, patients and even visitors.

The use cases were the collection of symptom-free attestation by clinicians as they started shifts; the detection of clinician exposure and contact tracing; reporting of clinician temperature checks; inpatient telehealth consultations in isolation units; virtual visits between isolated patients and families; touchless single sign-on (SSO) authentication; secure access enabled for rapid expansion of personnel working remotely; and monitoring temporary worker attendance.

Imprivata was chosen because of its high market penetration, and the U.S. and UK markets due to their share of Imprivata’s clients: 80.2 percent in the U.S. (2,320 facilities) and 5.5 percent in the UK (158 facilities). The Massachusetts company also recorded innovative use cases for its technologies. The researchers focused on Imprivata’s OneSign for SSO, Confirm ID for clinician identity and multifactor authentication and PatientSecure for patient identity validation.

A literature review found no other research on use cases of IAM technology used to improve hospital infection control or outbreak management.

How, where and when staff were deployed was disrupted, the IT systems and devices they used changed, in part due to the highly infectious nature of the virus. “The pandemic surges amplified the centrality of securing and managing digital identity. Identity access and management (IAM) capabilities enabled hospitals to leverage these technologies in innovative ways to support their COVID-19 response,” states the paper.

For example, the SSO use case showed how clinical staff needing only to sign in once at the beginning of a shift, entering details via a keyboard, and then subsequently using proximity identity badges to access the electronic health record, cut the time spent on logging in meaning more time to spend on the patients themselves. Attesting to being symptom-free had to be quick and simple – just a tap of their proximity ID badge – and focused on staff in contact with patients, rather than those working remotely, for example.

Staff location logs via ID helped determine whether an individual may have come into contact with someone infected with the virus. Software and hardware management systems also allowed rapid collection of mobile devices via staff ID to give to patients to communicate with family in a way that administered the hardware and set up appointments for video calls.

The paper notes how the continued necessity to protect hospital IT systems was unaffected by the “creative use cases” for IAM for infection control and for minimizing the disruption to workflows caused by the virus. It acknowledges that there may have been many more innovative use cases deployed during the pandemic and that better ways to track such uses are needed.

“Hospital clinical, IT and administrative leaders should not regard the products/services they purchase from health IT vendors as static and delimited in terms of problems they can resolve and challenges vendors can help them meet,” note the researchers.

“The necessity and urgency created by the pandemic crisis fuelled these hospital-inspired innovative applications of SSO and IAM technologies.”

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