Digital identity vital to delivering on the promise of virtual care – MedCity News

As the industry advances its services outside the four walls of the provider, a shift in digital care interactions will require a robust infrastructure to facilitate secure, real-time data sharing and patient identification. Further, to deliver on the promise of virtual, consumer-centric care, organizations will have to make their health system interoperable and portable.

To accommodate consumers’ heightened expectations piloted by the pandemic, giving patients digital access to care is no longer a luxury but a fundamental requirement providers must meet to stay competitive and foster customer loyalty. Patients also need the portability, ease and convenience of accessing health-related services from their smartphones, including online appointment scheduling and test results, just as they do in banking and retail.

A recent survey by Pew Charitable Trust finds 61 percent of Americans want to access their health data on their mobile devices. The study also found 67 percent support enhanced patient identification methods, including use of smartphone apps, to acquire their data. Another study from Forrester confirms that web and mobile app experiences are more important to consumers than premiums, rates and fees. However, a new report by Kaufman Hall demonstrates healthcare leaders have yet to commit to remote care, with just 7 percent of the 100 healthcare organizations surveyed having the ability to drive digital and consumer-focused transformation.

While most consumers support smartphone innovations to advance digital health access and services, hospitals remain daunted by the inability to exchange records between sites of care and the capacity to maintain the accuracy of that information. Healthcare’s enduring hardships with patient identification and verification also stand in the way of consumer demand and readiness for anytime, anywhere care.

Fostering privacy and a better patient experience in telehealth

Following widespread use of virtual care during COVID-19, there is hope for digital health transformation. According to a survey from HIMSS Analytics, more than half (56%) of hospital and health system leaders are planning to increase their investment in telemedicine over the next two years. As organizations wrap their arms around telehealth, they must also embrace strict identity protocols to enable secure, seamless authentication methods for verifying identities.

Verifying one’s identity at a distance is no easy feat, and the potential risks and vulnerabilities associated with medical errors, patient privacy and cybersecurity increases substantially. Telehealth services are also attractive targets for hackers because they include a plethora of protected health information, and services typically happen outside of controlled environments including patients’ personal devices. A recent study found 48 percent of patients are unlikely to use virtual care again if their health data is hacked. During Covid-19, this threat could cause individuals to seek care elsewhere or to skip their appointments altogether, resulting in negative outcomes for providers and patients.

In order to balance the needs of consumerism and security, a decentralized approach to identity is a natural step toward verifying and authenticating patient identities while supporting virtual and portable care. This identity-proofing strategy, conducted simply from one’s smartphone, allows consumers to take the lead in managing their identity, and providing informed consent for information sharing across providers.

To meet consumer demand for fast, convenient ways to access care remotely, digital identity tools would allow patients to use their phones to securely authenticate themselves, connect with their doctors, retrieve lab results, pay medical bills, and share their insurance coverage.

Decentralized identity offers a new way of verification that doesn’t involve carrying cards or birth certificates. The process involves downloading a digital wallet, or “patient passport,” that securely stores an individual’s digital credentials for fast, contact-less care. To confirm their identity, patients can share credentials including their insurance card, driver’s license or vaccination record—all of which are issued by organizations that verify the authenticity of the information. This allows patients to share pre-verified credentials instead of a physical document.

Once the provider verifies the patient’s identity the first time, using a photo ID or other methodology, the digital passport becomes a one-click, on-demand tool for virtual check-ins, provider connections, data access and permissions. Patients could use their digital wallet to authenticate requests for information from new providers. This would allow users to automatically share insurance plans, populate forms and allocate specific data. The wallet could also store important allergies and medications so providers and pharmacists to avoid adverse drug events.

The value of digital identity innovation and authentication diminishes the privacy risks of circulating personal information across the digital landscape. A patient’s personal data stays securely protected in their wallet. Instead of sharing any Personal Identifiable Information (PII), the “passport” only provides proof of the verified credential. This control gives consumers the ability to maintain complete ownership of their PII and decide what data and with whom it’s shared with. Most importantly, a patient’s PII is never copied or stored with a decentralized identity model, reducing the immanent risk of a data breach.

Because consumers generally use passwords they can remember, they are inherently not secure. Meanwhile, two-factor authentication creates additional friction and inconvenience. Digital identity tools enable immense opportunities for organizations to go password-less using portable decentralized standards and connections to federated identity infrastructures. Plus, biometric capabilities already built into one’s smartphone gives patients an extra layer of privacy and protection.

Digital identity boasts benefits for both consumers and their care providers

Implementing digital identity into the health IT infrastructure benefits both the consumer and the provider. Enabling consumer consent and control of their identity can solve many of the slow and redundant frustrations that occur during care interactions, like redundant paper-based forms, patient registration, scheduling and wait times. This allows patients and healthcare organizations to be sure that the right person is getting the right services at the right time–whether or not that individual is physically standing in front of a desk.

Establishing a decentralized identity model also makes onboarding more convenient for patients while simultaneously reducing administrative burdens. Without a clipboard stuffed with paper forms, both patients and providers can reduce the time and effort it takes to begin a care encounter and eliminate a critical source of data entry mistakes. Meanwhile, empowering patients to take control of verifying the accuracy of their own demographic data would result in fewer overall errors. With the most current, complete, and accurate information, providers can avoid duplicate record creation and subsequent patient identification errors, while feeling more confident in the integrity of their data.

As patients travel through the care continuum, tapping digital identity verification would reduce repetitious requests for information, as well as fewer repeated services and patient safety events. Providers can also avoid unnecessary fraud and spending that might impact their participation in value-based care models.

Investments in digital authentication and verification tools will be critical to advancing secure telehealth and self-services remotely. The technology to achieve this vision is already widely in use across other areas of consumer life. Using the innovations of digital identity, payers, providers and retail health clinics can meet the demands of today’s tech-savvy consumers by allowing them to be the single source of truth of their identity while acquiring full control of their personal data. The key will be developing a healthcare-specific version of the digital wallet that is robust enough to meet the privacy, security and consumer expectation requirements of provider organizations.

With this next generation of digital tools in hand, healthcare organizations can finally offer the frictionless consumer experiences they have been chasing and take one giant leap closer to 100 percent patient matching accuracy.

Photo: invincible_bulldog, Getty Images

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