We Need a Digital Identity Framework to Guide the Challenging Transition to Remote Healthcare


By GUS MALEZIS

We don’t often see two Republicans and two Democrats come together to offer solutions to problems. But even at this difficult time in America, I can see bipartisanship in a truly meaningful way. The intensely-challenging issue of digital identity is bringing members of Congress of both parties together.

Most American adults rely on an 84-year-old system of identification — the social security number. But that ID is limited in use, and does not serve us well in healthcare and especially as COVID-19 – beyond the healthcare and safety issues – makes us an ever more digital nation. We are indeed accelerating our national pivot to a digital nation as we, for example,  log on to go to school or work, to buy food, to shop for clothing, or to pay bill and transfer money from a bank account. And, now more so than ever, healthcare is becoming digital, as we seek to navigate a digital world to visit the doctor, to fill a prescription, or to review medical test results. Digital identity presents a major obstacle to a safer and smoothly functioning digital healthcare experience.

As the Coronavirus disrupts our nation, and healthcare delivery turns increasingly digital, on-line fraudsters have not been interrupted; they have simply been given far more opportunity than they might have imagined.

Congressman Bill Foster(D-IL) , has introduced the “Improving Digital Identity Act of 2020,” to make digital identity more secure and data breaches and identity theft less likely. Joining him in sponsoring the bill are another Democrat, John Lagevin (D-RI), and two Republicans — John Katko (R-NY)and Barry Loudermilk (R-GA). These four Congressmen — from far different parts of the American political spectrum — have come together to create a bill that would establish a standard framework for federal agencies to provide digital identity verification, establish a task force on securing digital identities, and create a grant program for states to modernize systems.

This bipartisan effort to protect digital identity can help change for the better millions of lives in the healthcare world. While many of the entities behind this bill are from the financial services world, healthcare needs this bill to become law as much as any sector. Healthcare providers are in desperate need of a more robust, comprehensive digital strategy to address the industry’s unique security, privacy, compliance, and workflow challenges. As important as it is for providers to have a powerful digital ID, it is equally important for patients to have one too, so they can have easy and consolidated access to their health information, and so that doctors can equally see the patient’s complete health picture, regardless if they are treating the patient at the home, the clinic or hospital.

As technology leaders, it is our job to deliver the solutions necessary to meet these complex and growing cybersecurity demands. Having a digital identity framework for all industries, including healthcare represents a giant step forward. With a unified system, we can avoid the security and efficiency gaps of non-cohesive approaches, and we can ensure patient privacy. This is especially important as we plan for the post-pandemic world, which no doubt will only involve more and more remote care – and many other unknowns.

Our goal is to develop a technology solution that works everywhere — in the clinical environment, at home, on any device. After all, healthcare is no longer just in the hospital and the ER – it takes place everywhere, and we need enhanced digital identification that will allow us to access it from anywhere. The technology also has to be simple and easy to use. We cannot afford to further complicate physician workflows and risk exacerbating the national public health problem of physician burnout.

Albert Einstein said, “in the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.” With more remote medicine being practiced during the global pandemic, more digital identity failures are exposed. The opportunity — working more remotely and more digitally, with elevated security and privacy during the Covid crisis – is to make vast improvements in healthcare delivery as a whole. That starts with a trusted digital identity framework designed specifically to address and support the unique requirements of healthcare — and its entire ecosystem, including clinicians, patients, external vendors, and non-human entities such as shared mobile and connected medical devices.

We are reaching for these goals, and this legislation will be pivotal. Not only will health care providers benefit from having a trusted digital identity, but indeed all Americans will –  whether they be traversing a healthcare system, depositing a check, or ordering a pizza.  

At this time of stress and pandemic in our country, I am grateful to see four members of Congress come together — two Republicans and two Democrats — in favor of a more secure digital identity for us all.  

Gus Malezis is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Imprivata, a Lexington, Mass.-based healthcare digital identity company.

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