BACKGROUND: A hospital system based in Charlotte, North Carolina, is installing scanners that identify patients by the unique vein patterns in their hands, virtually eliminating the possibility that personal information could be misused during the patent registration process.
HOW IT WORKS: Carolina HealthCare System is the first known healthcare provider in the US to use the technology, which pairs a palm scanning device made by Fujitsu with a durable cradle and software system that the hospital designed itself. Incoming patients are asked to place their middle finger between two prongs at the top of the cradle to make sure their palm is properly positioned. The scanner uses near-infrared light to map the vein patterns in a patientýs palm. The digital image is converted into a number that correlates with the patient's medical records. Vein patterns in a palm are considered more unique than a fingerprint. Since a number, not an image, is stored with the palm scanner, there is no chance an identity could be stolen and illegally reproduced.
BENEFITS: Currently, it's possible for someone to overhear or see sensitive personal information, or use someone else's Social Security number or health insurance card to receive services. It can also be time-consuming to check in at a hospital, filling out paperwork and waiting for staff to enter the information into a computer before a patient receives care. With the new palm scanning system, once a patient's information is collected on the first visit, it is permanently in the system. On subsequent visits, the patient need only provide a birth date and have their palm rescanned to establish a positive identification. In an emergency, a positive identification can be made even if the patient is unconscious.
WHAT IS INFRARED LIGHT? Heat is a form of light, technically known as thermal infrared radiation. Thermal radiation falls just below the range for visible light on the electromagnetic spectrum. It's the reason a stovetop burner glows red: the atoms in the burner are excited by the influx of energy when the burner turns on, causing the emission of photons in that region of the electromagnetic spectrum. All objects radiate heat. Living things emit more heat than, say, a rock, because they must consume energy to stay alive, and this in turn generates heat. Modern night-vision equipment exploits the generation of heat by living bodies by focusing the thermal emissions with a special lens, and transmitting it to IR detectors, which create a detailed pattern based on variations in temperature, called a thermogram. The thermogram is then translated into electrical impulses, and these are analyzed by a computer and sent to the display, which shows the data as various colors depending on the intensity of the IR emission.
The Optical Society of America contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.