WALNUT CREEK (KTVU) -- A new hi-tech approach to capturing newborns' footprints is gaining ground in maternity wards, a trend that aims to make babies safer in and out of hospitals.
The new electronic scans take a digitized imprint of a newborn's tiny foot, replacing the paper imprint that has traditionally been used. Medical officials say the scans are an added security measure because newborns don't immediately develop fingerprints.
"The footprint is the individual marker of the baby," said unit manager Rachelle Menconi-Shipp, who works at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek. It is the first hospital in California to adopt the digital foot scans for newborns.
The digital scans are usually completed within a few hours of a newborn's birth.
Little baby Ethan Krompier had his feet gently pressed against a glowing green live scan reader, that was smaller than a shoebox, as parents Lauren and Jeremy Krompier watched.
The scans usually take a few minutes but the benefit lasts a lifetime, healthcare workers say.
Parents get a print-out of the scan and can download a certificate.
But the digital replicas are more than a sentimental memento. The mother's index fingers are also scanned.
Mother "and baby are now forever linked," said Nurse Catalina Velazco.
The Krompiers, who live in Alamo, expressed confidence in the scan.
"It's good and they explained it was an added safety feature, so that's comforting," Lauren Krompier said.
Officials at John Muir Medical Center embraced the new technology because the images are saved at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
The images will be readily accessible for law enforcement in case of abduction, abandonment or any circumstance that pulls families apart.
"We are always worried about an earthquake or natural disaster in our area," said Menconi-Shipp. "With this, if mom and child ever get separated, they can reunite."
The digital footprint is quicker, less messy and more exact, its supporters say. Traditional pressing skin to paper creates smudges and smears, and the image can't be magnified with any clarity.
Digital scans are also lasting because paper degrades and ink fades over time so most conventional footprints end up resembling blank paper after as little as five years.
"It's a keepsake because only occasionally would there be enough of a foot pattern to be able to identify an infant," Menconi-Shipp said.
For the Krompiers, it's a mix of old and new.
Their son, James, was born at John Muir two years ago and foot printed with the old method. The new system seems more in line with the times.
"I really like that you can access it whenever you want to (and) share it with other family members because it's a really cool keepsake to be able to look back at as they grow up," Jeremy Krompier said.
The hospitials do not charge parents for copies of the digital scans. And Certascan, which developed the technology, provides the devices to hospitals at no charge.
Facilities pay according to how much they use it and for John Muir, which delivers about 2,800 babies annually, that amounts to about $9 per scan.
By KTVU reporter Debora Villalon.