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How is the Industry Lobbying for a National Patient Identifier?

All across the healthcare industry, professional organizations are pushing to develop a national patient identifier to improve patient safety and interoperability.

By Sara Heath

A national patient identifier would not only improve patient safety by reducing errors, but would allow for better interoperability and health data exchange, several industry professionals claim.

By standardizing the way in which digital health programs identify patients, physicians would better be able to share patient data with colleagues at different care locations.

The push for a national patient identifier has been a long trajectory, starting in 1996 in the original drafts of the HIPAA privacy legislation. Due to privacy concerns, this effort was abandoned three years later.

The push for a national patient identifier has charged onward, however, with industry groups such as the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) and American Healthcare Information Management Association (AHIMA) voicing their support.

Below is a breakdown of where the industry is in lobbying for a national patient identifier:

CHIME pushes for NPI development

As stated above, CHIME has been a leader in the push for an NPI. In March of last year, the group announced a $1 million prize for anyone who could develop a 100 percent accurate NPI system.

CHIME renewed that contest in January of this year, announcing that it was partnering with HeroX to host a competition for developers "to develop a solution for ensuring 100 percent accuracy in identifying patients in the United States."

The organization has also been responsible for several letters to Congress, explaining that the industry is in desperate need of a standardized patient identification system in the form of an NPI.

Most recently, CHIME executives penned a letter to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee saying that an NPI was the industry’s foremost need if it wanted to move in the direction of robust health information exchange and care coordination.

“We must first acknowledge that the lack of a consistent patient identity matching strategy is the most significant challenge inhibiting the safe and secure electronic exchange of health information,” state CHIME President and CEO Russell P. Branzell, CHCIO, LCHIME and Charles E. Christian, CHCIO, LCHIME, FCHIME, FHIMSS, Chair of the CHIME Board of Trustees.

This problem, the pair said, is fundamentally tied to patient safety.

“Patients and care providers are missing opportunities to improve people’s health and welfare when information about care or health status is not easily available. As data exchange increases among providers, patient data matching errors and mismatches will become exponentially more problematic and dangerous.”

AHIMA leads industry-wide NPI petition

CHIME is not the only healthcare group advocating for a national patient identifier. Earlier this month, AHIMA led an industry-wide petition calling for an NPI.

AHIMA specifically pushes back against the notion that an NPI poses a threat to healthcare data security. As the healthcare industry falls deeper and deeper down the technology rabbit hole, the organization insists the technology exists to protect against privacy concerns.

“EHRs have become more prevalent and have reached a stage where the lack of a patient identification strategy has become a daunting challenge that threatens patient privacy and safety,” said Lynne Thomas Gordon, MBA, RHIA, CAE, FACHE, FAHIMA, CEO of AHIMA. “AHIMA is confident the technology exists to solve this problem while ensuring that patient privacy is protected. But it will require public-private collaboration and open discussion.”

AHIMA bases its assertions on a recently-released survey showing that over half of healthcare professionals regularly work to mitigate patient matching problems. That statistic served as yet another reason why AHIMA and several of its industry peers have called for an NPI.

“We cannot sit around and wait for others to correct this problem,” AHIMA’s research team stated. “As healthcare professionals, we need to embrace the challenge and collaborate to develop scalable solutions to assure patient information is available when and where it is needed.”

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