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GAO Identifies Additional Efforts to Improve Patient Matching

Despite increased efforts to enable health data exchange between providers, patients, and other stakeholders, electronic patient matching remains problematic.

Patient matching solutions

Source: Getty Images

By Kyle Murphy, PhD

- The Government Accountability Office recently released findings from interviews of nearly two score of physicians, hospitals, and other stakeholders that detail the many challenges in the way of patient matching as well as potential solutions.

Errors in patient matching — primarily the mistaken matching of different patients or the failure to match records for the same patient — pose a significant threat to the delivery of appropriate care and patient safety.

As chronicled in the GAO report, regional efforts to address patient matching challenges have met with success locally; however, no one has yet to develop a solution for nationwide adoption.

The report prepared for the heads of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions and House Committee on Energy and Commerce identified five potential solutions to improving patient matching.

“Multiple stakeholders noted that no single effort would be sufficient to improve matching, given the factors that contribute to matching challenges,” GAO stated.

The first centers on implementing common standards for recording patient demographic data in health IT systems.

“Stakeholders said that if providers implemented such standards, it could increase the extent to which they collect the same types of demographic data or use the same format for names and addresses as other providers, for example,” the report noted. “However, stakeholders had differing views on how to reach agreement on and implement common standards among providers, as well as how feasible it would be to do so.”

Reaching consensus across the industry, honoring patient preferences for sharing data, dedicating resources to staff training, lingering limitations of EHR systems, and continued errors in recording data hinder standardization.

Another potential solution is the development of a data set for testing the accuracy of patient matching methods.

“Stakeholders noted that such a data set would allow health IT vendors, providers, or others to assess matching methods independently (instead of relying on vendors’ reported accuracy rates, for example) and in a standardized way (by using the same data source),” stated the report.

However, federal officials at ONC are on the record as stating that creating such a data set would require significant data and resources for development, not to mention the challenge of then implementing the data set.

A third and perhaps most realistic solution involves the sharing of best practices and resources for patient matching.

“According to a number of stakeholders we spoke with, more could be done to encourage the sharing of best practices and other patient record matching resources. For example, representatives from some HIEs said it would be beneficial to bring organizations together to share lessons learned and collaborate on best practices for using patient data to match records,” GAO noted.

A unique patient identifier represents another potential solution though numerous efforts to bring attention to the cause have failed to garner widespread support.

Lastly, public-private collaborations have the potential to lead to gain traction across healthcare.

“Multiple stakeholders we spoke with saw a need for a collaborative public-private effort to help identify and implement efforts to improve patient record matching,” GAO continued. “For example, several stakeholders saw a specific need for a national strategy or approach for addressing patient record matching issues. Representatives from the Pew Charitable Trusts, for example, stated that a national strategy—led by the private sector, with the federal government providing support—could help reach consensus on ways to improve matching.”

More and more data is being generated by clinicians and patients are receiving care across numerous sites of service. Barring agreement among stakeholders across healthcare, one if not all solutions have a chance to address a growing problem

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