Jul 21, 2022 in Guest Blogs, Members by DIACC

The Future of Digital Identity: Healthcare

By Michael Magrath, Managing Director, Digital Identity at Kuma with additional contributions by members of DIACC’s Outreach Expert Committee.

If there is one industry that everyone participates in, it’s healthcare. Believe it or not, Canada’s healthcare system is far more progressive than many other nations, but there is a lot of room for improvement. Our patient experience can and will be improved as the sector continues down its digital transformation journey. Identity management and in general, digital identity, will be a major factor for healthcare providers and patients alike. This blog will focus on patients, because after all, you are one.

Patient identity is at the centre of healthcare. Treating the wrong patient by misidentification, has led to everything from allergic reactions to death. Indeed, providing high quality care to the right patient is paramount.

While everything seems to be going digital today, healthcare is rooted in the offline, physical world, and full transformation to digital is a long and arduous journey. Provincial governments have done arguably a respectable job enabling us to prove who we are via our health insurance cards presented at point-of-care. The card includes our name, date of birth, photograph, provincial health card number along with physical security features like holograms to thwart the production and use of fake cards.

But what about in the digital world? As good as our health insurance cards are at point-of-care, they do not prove who we are online. The pandemic only magnified these shortcomings. At the moment, there are wide-scale social engineering and phishing attacks designed to trick individuals to share their online account login credentials to takeover accounts, access company files and assets, drain bank accounts, and create false identities, to name a few. In 2022, we need a secure, voluntary, and privacy-enhancing digital identity in order to cease the use of passwords for login to protect our digital lives.

A digital identity is a digital representation that uniquely identifies a person presented to service providers, such as a physician’s office, hospital, bank, or government agency when accessing online services. Like a driver license, possessing a digital identity is not a government mandate and should be a choice for an individual, but it does make life easier and more secure when transacting business online.

Changes are coming which will significantly improve our lives as patients. Have you ever lost a paper prescription or had to wait for the pharmacist to call your doctor because their handwriting is illegible? There is a better way – electronic prescriptions sent by your physician to the pharmacy are commonplace in many countries, and even mandated in some.

Those in the “sandwich generation,” caring for themselves, their children, and their elderly parent(s) know the frustrations of coordinating care with multiple healthcare providers. Patient portals have added convenience for Americans to schedule appointments, view test results and medical records, and will soon benefit all Canadians. To protect patient privacy and security, healthcare organizations need high assurance that the person accessing the portal is who they claim they are. Digital identity can enable all of the above, and if you don’t use one already, a digital identity wallet may be in your future.

Digital identity wallets are just what they sound like. They are analogous to physical wallets in that they contain digital versions of the wallet owner’s identity proofs and related assets. These assets typically include digital versions of familiar physical cards and documents (e.g., driver’s license, proof of insurance, health cards, etc.). They are highly secure and provide consumers with the ability to protect their privacy and have control over their information by sharing what they choose with an organization. The example often used for a digital or mobile driver license is entering a nightclub. The bouncer at the door only needs to know that the person is of legal drinking age. They do not need the person’s name and home address. To protect privacy and security, the digital wallet holder can share only their age with the bouncer. When was your child’s last tetanus shot? It could be a few clicks away, securely stored in your digital wallet accessible from your mobile device.

As we can see the light at the end of the dark and deadly pandemic tunnel, life will noticeably change. One positive change will be our online safety and security. With Web3 on the near-term horizon, having and utilizing digital identities will be more important than ever for all Canadians.