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Digital patient identity in a pandemic era

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Virtually every industry has seen the global pandemic transform how they do business. Nowhere is this more evident than in healthcare. The emergence of COVID quickly led to in-person medical appointments moving to online video consultations, and all manner of routine healthcare needs migrating to digital platforms. A great deal of focus has been placed on the privacy ramifications of initiatives like vaccine passports but managing digital patient identity is growing to be an increasingly important topic, too.

Striking the right balance between providing an easy-to-use digital experience for patients and securing often sensitive data, is no small task. Establishing a secure, yet user friendly, way to verify healthcare employee and patient identity digitally, is now at the top of the agenda.

Legacy barriers

Historically, digital has been a difficult area for many organisations in the healthcare sector, with a combination of cumbersome legacy systems and siloed data making modernisation a challenge. This has left many patients having to fill out repetitive paper forms before appointments to receive care, miles away from the customer friendly interactions found in the digital realm.

And any attempted shift to digital brings up a multitude of security issues that need to be addressed, in order to safeguard patient data. The ForgeRock 2021 Breach Report finds, for the third year in a row, healthcare was the biggest target in terms of the number of breaches, accounting for 34% of the total.

Future of patient identity

High-tech start-ups are working to create workable patient ID solutions that joint together a range of personal data from hospitals, GPs, pharmacies and other healthcare apps. For example, digital health firm b.well Connected Health recently partnered with MasterCard to launch a smartphone digital ID verification service.

Innovations such as this, do away with passwords and usernames in favour of using smart biometrics on phones. The core benefit of this approach is the ability to use a single ID for countless healthcare services, all through a secure app.

It is not only healthcare providers who benefit from embracing high-tech solutions for verifying and sharing patient identity, patients also benefit by being able to take greater charge of their own care. A single digital ID could support the creation of a so-called ‘golden record’ for patients, containing all of their clinically relevant information.

With a AHIMA 2020 Patient Identification Survey finding that just 22% of respondents achieved a 1% or less duplicate error rate in their electronic health record (EHR), clearly more needs to be done to establish an accurate patient record. Costly medical identity theft could also be reduced if healthcare organisations were to embrace secure digital IDs, making it harder for criminals to impersonate patients.

In a post-pandemic world, it’s unlikely patients will be happy to go back to the old status quo of healthcare. The new normal will see an increasingly empowered patient who expects the ability to manage their healthcare needs, including arranging appointments, ordering prescriptions and checking personal data, all on digital solutions and platforms.