Background and Importance

The rational for this research was the disadvantage that is inherent to the frequent loss of ID cards and the subsequent limited access to non-emergency healthcare services which is experienced by individuals who are homeless. The overall objectives of this study were to assess the functionality of iris scanning technology in a community setting and to evaluate the acceptability of iris scanning for client identification among participants


Participants were either staying at a Salvation Army homeless shelter for the month or accessing its services such as the food bank. As participants checked-in to the shelter, they were asked to have a scan of their iris which generated a unique identifying number for each participant. In addition, 50 participants were then asked to perform a second iris scan to verify that the technology could accurately identify them and match their identifying number with their previous scan. Participants answered a short questionnaire focusing on client acceptability and feasibility of the iris scanning identification system. Iris scanning was performed with iris recognition equipment called Seek Avenger, developed by Crossmatch Technologies. Quantitative and qualitative analyses were conducted to generate descriptive statistics and to determine a thematic grouping of responses, respectively.


The research team recruited 200 participants over the course of three visits. A total of 191 participants agreed to an iris scan. Qualitative findings revealed three themes for agreeing to a scan; safe and fast identification, incentive for participation ($2 coffee card), and to help a good cause. Of the 167 participants who answered the question on identification preference, 146 (87%) stated they preferred an iris scan over a health card. Reasons for this preference included simplicity, and losing ID cards or not having to carry an ID card. The 21 participants (13%) that preferred an ID card to iris scanning stated a fear of being tracked by government agencies, information falling into criminal hands for misuse, or the lack of system capacity to manage the data. The iris scan was successful in scanning the eye(s) of 182 participants and unsuccessful for six participants, resulting in a success rate of 97%. Furthermore, 50 participants agreed to a second iris scan of which 49 were accurately matched with their previous scan, resulting in an accuracy rate of 98%. The remaining 2% was due to the participant not being able to stay still long enough for the scanner to focus on the eye.


Based on the current qualitative and descriptive statistics, Iris scanning is a safe and reliable form of identification that can withstand fraudulent activity. If implemented, it can be cost-effective in this population given the frequency of ID card replacement, and the lack of access to non-emergency health care services, the latter of which leads to an increase in emergency department usage and therefore funding. This study recommends the establishment of a quality-assured iris recognition program for identification of individuals experiencing homelessness in order to gain access to services. Concerns and perceptions of surveillance, inabilities of the system, and safety of information must be addressed before implementation.


Cheryl Forchuk, RN, PhD. Distinguished University Professor and Associate Director of Nursing Research Professor, Arthur Labatt Family School of Nursing, Western University, London, ON, Canada

Lorie Donelle, RN, PhD. Associate Professor at Arthur Labatt Family School of Nursing/School of Health Studies, Western University, London, ON, Canada

Miriam Capretz, PhD. Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Associate Vice-Provost (Acting) Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, Western University, London, ON, Canada

Principal Investigator

Cheryl Forchuk


University of Western Ontario/Lawson Health Research Institute

550 Wellington Road (Parkwood Institute), London, ON

N6C 0A7

Tel. (519) – 685 – 8500 Ext. 77034,