Could your heartbeat be your password?

2:09 pm by | 1 Comments

With all the concern (and liability) hospitals and their partners face to keep patient medical data secure and private, one new biometric security innovation could offer an interesting alternative to the typical password. This wristband grants users access to their devices by identifying the wearer by their heartbeat.

A Popular Science article said Toronto-based startup Bionym wants to manufacture its Nymi wristband and sell it for nearly $80 when it is scheduled to hit the market next year. According to CEO Karl Martin, it will be able to unlock PCs, Macs, iPhones and Android phones and tablets. But he also sees its relevance wherever passwords and PINs are required.

Here’s the article’s description of how it works:


When wearers put the Nymi on, sensors in the wristband will take the person’s ECG. Although all healthy hearts make roughly the same spiky shapes in an ECG sensor, there are enough differences in the graph to tell different people apart, several years of research has found.

Once users take off the bracelet, it doesn’t work until the user puts it back on and retakes their ECG.

Although it doesn’t appear to be designed specifically for healthcare, it could make an effective security tool to protect patient data or restrict access to particular hospital sections. Biometrics are being used in different ways for hospital security such as iris recognition, retina scanning and palm reading. It’s even available for prescription medication and administering medical marijuana.

Biometrics also has some potential shortcomings as a security option. Voice recognition for example sometimes doesn’t work if users have a cold. What if Nymi wristband users have an irregular heartbeat?

John Sepcoski, the CIO with Barnes-Kasson Hospital in Scranton, Pennsylvania thinks it would be a poor option for hospitals because there are too many security issues. In an emailed comment, he said he sees potential applications for remote monitoring so patients can confirm who they are.

“Health care organizations will need to secure the bracelets, secure the software and database that is used in storing authorized employee biometric profiles and maintain the database as employees change. This just adds costs to an ever increasing technology budget in health care.”

But when patients are home bound, it could be used to capture heart rate, blood pressure. The data to be collected without the patient needing to enter a code, without wires, and is simple for the patient to use.

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Stephanie Baum

By Stephanie Baum

Stephanie Baum is the East Coast Innovation Reporter for She enjoys covering healthcare startups across health IT, drug development and medical devices and innovations deployed to improve medical care. She graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania and has worked across radio, print and video. She's written for The Christian Science Monitor, Dow Jones & Co. and United Business Media.
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Effectiveness of this technique needs to be clearly established before it can be put to use.