The future of patient information is in the hands.
New York University Langone Medical Center in Manhattan is the first hospital in the Northeast to use palm scanners to identify patients and retrieve their medical records, hospital officials say.
Patients are now being asked to sign up for the program -- touted as fast, convenient and efficient -- when they visit the medical center. Affiliate doctor groups in New York City and on Long Island are also asking patients to scan their palms.
Since June more than 25,000 patients from New York City and Long Island have agreed to have their palms scanned, allowing the hospital and their doctors access to their medical history.
The technology, which banks in Japan have used for several years, accesses a patient's records without having to show an insurance card, said Steven Weiner, senior director of patient access and admissions. He added that an individual's palm is unique. It will also speed up emergency room admissions, he said.
To sign up, patients place their right palm on a sensor that uses near-infrared light to image the veins inside their palm. Near-infrared light is used for night-vision goggles and television remotes. A photograph of the patient is also taken to complete the registration process. At her next medical appointment, a patient will place her palm on the scanner to be identified.
Ailton DaSilva, 20, of Manhattan, who agreed to have his palm scanned, said he hopes the scanners will retrieve his records faster.
"I don't come often to the hospital, and when I come there always seems to be some delay," said DaSilva, who recently had weight-loss surgery and goes to the hospital for follow-up visits. "I hope this will help to recognize me sooner."
"The attractions to any new kind of technology always promise to make life easier and more efficient. Everyone always assumes it will not pose a risk," Lieberman said.
"But in the modern age of digital technology, patients should be concerned," she said. "There could be problems such as identity theft and wrongful disclosure that risks a person's individual privacy."
DaSilva admitted he is "a little unsure" about the process. "Like all these computer programs, there are always some glitches like identification theft," he said. "I see it with the credit card companies, so it's a little bit scary -- but than this is about the future."
Dr. Bernard Birnbaum, who has been chief of hospital operations since 2007, emphasized the hospital uses its own staff to operate the technology, called PatientSecure.
"The system maintains security and protects information," Birnbaum said.
Palm scanning can also help eliminate duplicate medical records, which can cause a misdiagnosis when a patient is erroneously identified, the doctor said.
Confusing a patient's identity happens when people have the same first and last name, or when there is a typo in a Social Security number, officials said.
Tina Pabarue Vassell, 46, of New Jersey, who was at the hospital last week for a sonogram, agreed to have her palm scanned.
"It seems like a positive experience," said Vassell, an administrative assistant for Emergency Medical Services at a New Jersey medical center. "I work at a hospital, and I think that this is a great way to identify patients."