Medical biometrics improve patients' care

How the healthcare sector benefits from advances in medical biometrics

By Jody Tarshis, IHS

Most people are familiar with the use of biometric identification systems – from fingerprints to voice recognition to iris scans – as elements of sophisticated security systems. The field of medical biometrics, however, is focused more on the collection of personal medical data and its use in diagnosis, research, and medical services development, rather than on security and identification.

Moticon sensor insoles The Moticon sensor insoles turn shoes into wireless performance-tracking systems (Photo: Moticon)

Not so new

Medicine has used biometrics for decades – electrocardiograms (ECGs) and computerized tomography (CT) scans, for example. Digitization of “snapshot” metrics, like ECGs, and the advent of real-time measurement technologies, particularly wearable devices, allows medical personnel to monitor patients biometric data remotely, exchange information with colleagues and develop data sets for research.

A 2015 IHS study singles out wearable and mobile biometric technologies as significant growth areas. IHS projects that revenue for health and medical applications from wearable technology alone will reach USD 8,7 billion by 2019. Wearables will evolve into sophisticated multi-function devices. 

Collecting, transmitting and protecting medical data 

Enabling data capture and interchange from medical devices is an essential function of medical biometrics. Devices have internal software to manage internal functions, but the data is useless unless it can be transmitted and received. Existing International Standards developed by ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee (JTC) 1: Information Technology, or standards prepared by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) or the InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS) specify data interchange formats, technical interfaces and application profile, among other others.

Medical information is as vulnerable to hackers and fraudsters as any other digitized data – whether it is transmitted wirelessly or stored on a computer (see article on cyber threats to medical data in this issue of e-tech). The Data Center Journal points out the much higher rate of cyberattacks on healthcare insurers and providers. Since this information is highly personal, stolen data can be used for identity theft and other crimes. Despite rigorous precautions and governmental directives, medical data is not secure, as demonstrated by recent major hacks of US healthcare providers.

Importance of Standards in medical biometrics

Adherence to national and International Standards for data capture and interchange allows devices to transmit and receive biometric data without regard to equipment, national boundaries, or languages.

The use of standards satisfies national and/or international security and privacy requirements. More and more countries demand that healthcare providers meet strict requirements for medical records privacy. This is the case with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the US. Some problems linked to privacy may emerge too. This was the case in the UK where the National Health Service (NHS) National Programme for IT, launched in 2002, was scrapped in 2011 because, among other things, of concerns over the privacy of patients' medical records.

Companies that plan to do business outside their home countries need to understand and comply with local regulations, as well as with national and international standards.

General adherence to standards also eliminates problems related to the deployment of proprietary software that does not communicate with other products. Widespread use of standards therefore promotes simplified collaboration and communication between doctors and patients, as well as between colleagues at different institutions.

Development prospects

Biometric data other than fingerprints or iris scans might be usable for secure personal identification. An example is the ECG data mentioned above. Other techniques combining ECG and other types of data are being developed to protect an individual’s personal records.

Another novel use of biometric data is a surgical navigation system, Scopis, with touchless control, which enables a surgeon to plan a procedure in real time, on a computerized model, before making any incisions.

Healthcare providers increasingly rely on patient-generated data, collected from wearable devices and transmitted via smartphone or tablet. Growth in development of digital health-tracking platforms such as Validic and Apple Health Kit, will fuel continued innovation in personal healthcare development.

Moticon sensor insoles The Moticon sensor insoles turn shoes into wireless performance-tracking systems (Photo: Moticon)
wireless pulse oximeter Wireless pulse oximeter
wearable blood pressure monitor Wearable blood pressure monitor (Photo: BodyGuardian)