US based biometrics organisation, Lumidigm, is intent on revolutionising the healthcare verification system in South Africa.

In a recent interview with eHealthNews, Vice President at Lumidigm, Greg Sarrail, and Divisional Director at Bytes System Integration, Nick Perkins, explained how Lumidigm’s biometrics offering is being rolled out in South Africa to combat identity theft to access health services, a big concern for the National Department of Health (NDoH).

“Our initial technology was designed to look at the unique properties of fingerprint tissue,” explained Sarrail. “12 years later we are using that technology to design fingerprint sensors that identify unique tissue properties of the finger; the optical characteristics of subsurface skin are highly variable from person to person — the basis of a biometric. Such technology means a finger doesn’t have to be in complete contact with the glass, and eliminates the issue of the skin being too dry or too moist; it even alleviates the scanning process of the elderly who have less collagen in their fingers,” said Sarrail.

Lumidigm has entered the African market by rolling out a vaccine monitoring programme in Benin; however, they have different sights set for South Africa. “In the South African medical space we’ve been working with medical aids, pharmacies and doctors to combat identity fraud. Patients often present themselves as someone else to use their medical aid benefits for a consultation and/or prescription, as a result medical aid organisations are being fraudulently billed,” said Perkins.

Fraud practices are increasingly becoming a more sophisticated and complex occurrence across medical schemes. While there are no official statistics on what fraud is costing the private healthcare sector in South Africa, some reports have suggested that it’s anything between R15-22 billion a year; it’s estimated that at least 10% of medical scheme claims are fraudulent.

According to a KPMG survey that was conducted in 2010, members and service providers were identified as the greatest perpetrators of fraud by submitting fraudulent claims. It has been established that the most common provider fraud is code unbundling or claiming for items or services that were never provided. It’s also common practice for providers to submit multiple claims over a period with minor changes designed to bypass duplicate checking by the scheme’s administrator.

Lumidigm is working the Bytes group to put their biometric scanners in place across South Africa. “We foresee having our biometric readers in doctor’s consultation rooms and pharmacies to verify patients and the scheme they are on. The system will, for example, ensure that only authorised personnel can access certain medication or that the right patient is receiving the right treatment,” said Perkins.

Perkins also explained how their system will help combat illegal immigrants taking advantage of the public healthcare system and occupying hospital beds that South African citizens are entitled to. “This is a huge concern for government; there have been cases where foreigners use forged licences and ID documents to obtain healthcare. Our system would ensure an accurate identification process,” said Perkins.

Lumidigm sees South Africa’s new SmartID cards as a way to accelerate the adoption of biometrics in the country. “Through biometrics, any organisation with a card and fingerprint reader may be able to perform instant verification of individuals carrying a National ID Card, assuming access is provided to this functionality by the Department of Home Affairs. There is a large emphasis right now to deploy these ID cards quickly as the possibilities are limitless. From enhancing physician workflow to rapidly accessing a patient’s Electronic Health Record (EHR), to identifying the patient upon registration in order to provide a better quality of care and eliminate duplicate and erroneous billing errors,” continued Sarrail.

Similar technology is already being used in banks across the country. “When you open a bank account your fingerprint is scanned, which is then sent along with your ID number to Home Affairs to verify your identity. Banks have already been using this technology for many without a hitch – and the healthcare industry requires similar functionality, so it’s only a matter of time before it’s fully adopted,” said Sarrail.

Sarrail concluded by explaining how their technology is already being used in the US healthcare industry in three main areas: by insurance providers to combat insurance fraud, by medical staff to streamline their daily routine and by patients to cut down on paperwork.

“Healthcare staff are using our fingerprint sensors to quickly access authorised work stations, the system then also keeps a record of which care giver was accessing which patient record at what time, which is extremely useful in ensuring security. The technology also improves the patient admittance process by cutting down on paperwork; now only a fingerprint is required to unlock their EHR, making the whole process more optimised and efficient,” concluded Sarrail.

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