Healthcare Month: Biometrics, Context and Coolness

Healthcare Month: Biometrics, Context and CoolnessThough identity management technology focuses on the biological aspect of who we are, there are other aspects of human life that add up to the whole person. At the Global Identity Summit in September, as the conference expanded its focus from solely on biometrics to include biographics and big data analytics, Duane Blackburn offered an excellent summary of what modern identity is.

Blackburn suggested that there are three aspects to a given identity: biography, biology and context. It is a wonderfully distilled way of defining identity, and an important concept to keep in mind when discussing the practical application of biometrics. Sure, a fingerprint scanner only scans the tips of your digits, but those digits are attached to a body with hopes, dreams and medical records. In healthcare, the full identity comes into play, but nowhere more apparently than in medical outreach programs that leverage biometric patient ID.

Notably, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been focused on bringing vaccinations to underserved areas in the world, including many parts of Africa. Through the foundation’s vaccination initiative, a great number of communities requiring critical inoculations are able to get their immune systems up to snuff when it comes to the big, dangerous but preventable maladies.

The issue is that, with international outreach in regions with low literacy and many different languages, communication becomes a critical problem. That’s why the foundation turned to VaxTrac, a system that employs Lumidigm multispectral biometric sensors from HID Global for patient vaccination record tracking. In addition to offering rapid identification of patients getting vaccinations and boosters regardless of the condition of their fingerprints (one of multispectral scanning big strengths), biometric patient ID keeps contextual identity straight.

In situation where a language barrier stands between a clinician and a patient, a scan of the finger can immediately present access to the proper vaccination history. The same goes for literacy barriers. Duplicate files in situations like those in which the Gates Foundation operates, can lead to wasted vaccine on patients that have already been inoculated. This is especially true with children, who, in the absence of biometric patient ID, are sometimes brought to the clinic multiple times to receive mutliple vaccinations. The context of having been to the clinic for a shot can get lost in translation without a strong identification solution in place.

The biometrics used in VaxTrac, therefore are a great boon in setting the record straight when it comes to the contextual identity of patients. The biology that is used to identify a vaccination recipient makes sure that the record containing the context of said vaccination – when it was, what it was from, who administered it – stays accountable and accurate. The unique patterns on a patient’s fingerprint, be they infant, child or adult, can circumvent the cumbersome burden of language barriers.

VaxTrac has been successful in overcoming these contextual barriers, allowing for the efficient administration of vaccine, but it has had an auxiliary effect on communities as well. A report from last year saw a ten percent increase in returning patients bringing new, unvaccinated children to the clinics in southern Benin, West Africa. Here, it is the context of the technology and not the patients that is encouraging healthy practices – the increased popularity is because biometrics are seen as cool in that region.

“The women are always asking for their baby’s fingerprints to be taken,” explained Aplogan Nicephore Ange-Guy, a vaccinator in Allada, Benin. “There is a growing demand for it. They say to me, ‘Take my child’s fingerprint.’ They think it’s cool.”


Stay posted throughout June as we dive deeper in the the world of biometrics and healthcare. Be a part of the conversation by following us on Twitter and tweeting with the hashtag #FBHealth.

June 10, 2015 – by Peter B. Counter