Digital vs. Traditional Ink Fingerprinting

Posted on: December 02, 2015

written by

Barton Team

Editor's Note: Updated June 2019

When applying for a new state license, physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, CRNAs, and dentists often have to submit fingerprints as part of the background check process. These fingerprints are run through multiple law enforcement agencies and criminal databases to find any potential criminal behaviors. Fingerprints are also submitted to the FBI to produce a national criminal history record report. If you are applying for a license in a state that requires fingerprints, you essentially have two options: the traditional ink method and digital fingerprinting. As with anything, there are pros and cons to each. Let’s explore.

The Traditional Ink Method

Cost: $80 on average

Choosing the old school ink method means you will have to go to a local sheriff’s department or law enforcement agency to get your fingerprints taken. The process is the same as when people are “booked” by the police following an arrest. Each finger pad is rolled in ink, then rolled onto a fingerprint card. Most states will accept the standard FD-258 fingerprint card, which has a space for each finger’s print as well as spaces for the left and right four fingers to be taken simultaneously. The pad also includes other identifiable information including: name, address, social security number, sex, height, weight, eye color, hair color, citizenship, and the reason for being fingerprinted.

Other state boards require the provider to complete cards that are specific to their state. Although ink has been used to record fingerprints since the 19th century, there are a number of things that can go wrong. For example, the ink on the card can get smudged. The ink might also fail to get all the ridges on each finger. Either scenario will make the prints unusable. That’s why most facilities will complete two cards, in the event that one copy is unusable. H​​ealthcare professionals in particular may have a hard time obtaining quality fingerprints from ink because they frequently wash their hands, making them dry.  The Oregon website suggests providers moisturize their hands or apply cornhusker’s oil to help “raise” the prints, making them easier to read. ​ 

The New Digital Method

Cost: $95-$110

These days with modern technology, digital fingerprinting is becoming more common and is actually more accurate than the traditional method. Instead of going to a sheriff’s department or law enforcement agency, providers can go to approved stores or small businesses to get their prints taken. The sites depend on which company you go through. Identogo has a list of available locations on their website. Digital fingerprinting isn’t as messy as the ink method. Simply roll your fingers across a glass plate and the prints are scanned into a machine. Once the fingerprints are taken electronically, they are then sent over to the designated facility.

Digital fingerprinting isn’t without its drawbacks. Electronic fingerprints can’t be sent across state lines, which means it is only an option if your fingerprints are taken in the state in which you are planning to work. 

So which is the better option?

Both methods have their advantages. The ink method is cheaper and there are more locations available to have your prints taken. Digital is the more expensive option, but it is also more accurate, which can save time in the long run. Great accuracy reduces the likelihood that the state board will reject the prints, and require you to start all over. However, it’s important to remember that digital is only an option if the prints are taken in the same state where you are applying to be licensed.

No matter what method you choose, remember that each time you apply for a license from a state that requires fingerprints, you will have to get a new set of prints taken. Fingerprint results can not be sent to multiple states and can only be used once when using the ink version.  Some digital fingerprinting companies will save fingerprints in their system, so if they needed to be sent again (in that state), they they could. But that may not apply to all states in all situations.

About Barton Team

We're Barton Associates, the Locum Tenens Experts. We work with thousands of hospitals, medical practices, and organizations across the United States and its territories that need talented providers for short- and long-term engagements. Inspired by the pioneering, humanitarian work of Clara Barton, the Barton Team recruits physicians, PAs, NPs, dentists and CRNAs in a wide variety of specialties, so that we can quickly place them in locum tenens assignments nationwide.

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