Technology & Science

Fingerprinting dental patients raises privacy concerns

A Winnipeg dentist has adopted a system that allows patients to announce their arrival with a touch of their fingers — which has raised the eyebrows of some privacy experts.

A Winnipeg dentist has adopted a system that allows patients to announce their arrival with a touch of their fingers —which has raised the eyebrows of some privacy experts.

Tim Dumore started fingerprinting his orthodontic patients about six months ago.

He has installed a biometrics system that allows his patients, most of whom are children, to sign in without tellinga receptionist. On arriving, they touch their finger to a pad at the front desk and a computersends a messageto staff workstations.

While Dumore says most of his patients and theirparents have willingly co-operated, he admits some have been reluctant.

"It can seem Big Brotherish," he said. "But we can reassure them that we're using proper security protocols."

The University of Manitoba's faculty of dentistry also fingerprints its patients.

Michael Lasko, registrar of the Manitoba Dental Association, thinks it could be the way of the future for identifying patients in dentistry and medicine.

"It's probably the easiest and most secure method of maintaining patient privacy," said Lasko.

He said fingerprints help patientsmaintain their anonymity by eliminating the need for conversations about personal health information at the reception desk.

Biometrics are being used to identify patients in medical and dental practices around the world.

But for Winnipeg privacy lawyer Brian Bowman,it raises all sorts of red flags. He worries that fingerprints, especially those of children, are being used simply for convenience.

"I think a lot of people are going to be asking the question: 'Why do you need to be collecting such sensitive data, and is it really necessary?' " he said.

Bowman says the practice could run afoul of privacy laws and there's the potential that those who refuse to provide their fingerprints might not receive treatment.

Dumore says his fingerprinting program is strictly optional.

But given the initial response, he expects he will soon have almost all his patients' fingerprints on file.