Checking In to the Hospital? We’ll Need to Scan Your Palm, Please

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Instead of letting precious time tick away as patients fill out forms and scramble around for health insurance cards, a New York City hospital is speeding up patient identification through palm reading – not the fortune-telling kind, but the type that uses a scanner to trace the unique web of veins in individual palms.

Administrators at New York University’s Langone Medical Center hope that the new technology will make patient check-ins more efficient, as well as eliminate the hospital errors, some of them due to misidentification, that cause up to 98,000 deaths annually in the United States.

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“The primary reason we actually got into this was patient safety,” the Center’s vice dean and chief of hospital operations Bernard Bimbaum told Reuters on Wednesday. “The benefits so greatly outweighed the disadvantages it was a no-brainer to implement.”

One benefit — patients do not need to be conscious when they are admitted to the hospital, which can speed patients emergency room patients receive urgent care. The scanners, made by technology services company Fujitsu, take a picture of an individual’s palm veins using near-infrared waves. The process requires that patients have already included a palm scan in their medical records, and because we each have unique palm-vein configurations, software can then match these pictures with our records. For security, the palm scans are stored as numeric codes rather than as images. All of this takes only a minute to set up for new patients, with subsequent scans taking only a second.

“We can then just ask one question: Has your insurance changed?” Bimbaum told Reuters. “If ‘no,’ you don’t have to fill out a single form.”

Over 25,000 of the Center’s patients have agreed to be checked in using the new scanning system, and the hospital is currently trying to convince as many of its patients as possible to use the system. With 1.7 million patients a year, that’s a lot of people – but less than 1% of patients have expressed reservations about the scanners, according to Bimbaum. The technology has yet to spread through the Northeast beyond Langone, though other hospitals in the United States have already jumped on the bandwagon. Hopefully more hospitals will adopt the scanners – when every second counts, anything that speeds up the delivery of health care to a critically ill patient is certainly welcome.

Tara Thean is a TIME contributor. Find her on Twitter at @TaraThean. You can also continue the discussion on TIME‘s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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