Biometrics: 3 Tips for Success

False positives and faulty readers are common criticism of biometric security systems. But with the right plan, can they be practical in your security portfolio?

Biometric security systems can, at first glance, seem futuristic. In some minds, they are still the stuff of science fiction. Biometrics are often criticized as being expensive and not practical in many business settings. But at Parkview Adventist Medical Center, Chief Technology Officer Bill McQuaid can't stop crowing about the success he has seen with the facility's biometric system.

"When we were first going to do this, I was concerned it would be more of a hassle than a convenience," said McQuaid "But it really has ended up being a win-win. It's a security tool and it's a marketing tool for me." (Watch the video to see how the system works.)

Four years ago, McQuaid streamlined all of the hospital's clinical applications into one vendor. The goal was for nursing documentation, emergency room applications, operating room applications, physician order entry, and bedside medication verification to be accessible through one system. But he also wanted access to those applications to be easy and seamless.

"I wanted doctors and nurses to just stick their finger on these screens and have no sign in," said Bill McQuaid. "They don't have to worry about a password or jumping from computer to computer."

So, after much research, McQuaid decided to implement a single-sign-on, biometric reader system from Imprivata. The system allows users, such as nursing staff and doctors, to use their finger to gain access to their profile and applications from anywhere in the clinical areas. McQuaid said in addition to ease, the system also includes security features, such as automatic log-off if the user steps away from the screen for too long. The security of the system addresses many of the privacy concerns the hospital must comply with under HIPPAA. It has also cut down on patient medication errors.

Plan for success

Mindful of the common criticism around biometric systems, McQuaid went into the project with a plan to make it foolproof before going live, so to speak. He said three steps were crucial to make the system easy and effective for everyone.

Test, test, test (because first impressions matter)

Concerned about false positives and other problems with the readers, McQuaid said testing extensively was the only way to ensure the system would be working well from the start. Before the readers were rolled out to staff, they had been tested for weeks to make sure they were easy to use and ready to be implemented. This boosted its success rate with staff, which McQuaid feels are easily influenced by first impressions.

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