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Renewed Call for HHS Support to National Patient Identifier

More than a score of healthcare organizations, associations, and academies are urging Congress to help support the development of a national patient identifier.

National Patient Identifier

Source: Thinkstock

- A group of 25 healthcare organizations representing providers, payers, and health IT companies have written members of the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations to remove a nearly twenty-year-old provision preventing HHS from adopting or implementing a national patient identifier.

The America’s Health Insurance Plans, American Medical Association, College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), and Intermountain Healthcare were notable subscribers to last week’s letter.

The group of healthcare organizations are insisting that report language be included in the FY18 Labor-HHS spending bill to empower HHS to aid private sector organizations in promoting patient data matching. The language comes from a report submitted alongside the House FY17-Labor HHS bill in 2016 but omitted from the spending package ultimately passed into law. 

The language enables the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), acting through the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), to provide technical assistance to private-sector led initiatives that support a coordinated national strategy to promote patient safety by accurately identifying patients and matching them to their health information. 

Patient data matching became a focal point of health policy advocates over the past few years as a way to further streamline EHR use and improve the accuracy of patient care. CHIME in particular has pushed for a national patient identifier for years, including through million dollar initiatives in 2015 and 2016. 

Problems with patient data matching have resulted in increased costs for healthcare organizations and instances of patient harm.

“According to a recent study of healthcare executives, misidentification costs the average healthcare facility $17.4 million per year in denied claims and potential lost revenue,” the letter stated. “More importantly, there are patient safety implications when data is matched to the wrong patient and when essential data is lacking from a patient’s record due to identity issues.”

The subscribing organizations maintain the potential for patient harm stemming from inaccurate patient data matching will become increasingly dangerous as health data exchange and the continued digitization of patient information increases.

“As data exchange increases among providers, patient identification and data matching errors will become exponentially more problematic and dangerous,” they wrote. “Precision medicine and disease research will continue to be hindered if records are incomplete or duplicative.” 

A unique patient identifier (UPI) prohibition, however, presently bars HHS from supporting certain private-sector initiatives aimed at developing a national patient identifier.

By encouraging HHS to become actively engaged in these initiatives, the healthcare organizations contend Congress can help accelerate the effort toward instituting a nationwide solution.

“Clarifying Congress’ commitment to ensuring patients are consistently matched to their healthcare data is a key barrier that needs to be addressed if we are to solve this problem,” wrote authors.

In their letter, the undersigned organizations requested HHS be permitted to offer technical assistance to private-sector initiatives seeking to deploy a coordinated effort for a national patient identification and matching system.

Given federal agencies benefit from a wealth of resources and expertise not necessarily available to private initiatives, healthcare organizations see HHS involvement as a way to launch these initiatives forward.

“Allowing ONC and CMS to offer this type of technical assistance will help accelerate and scale safe and effective patient matching solutions,” stated authors. “The absence of a consistent approach to accurately identifying patients has resulted in significant costs to hospitals, health systems, physician practices, and long-term post-acute care (LTPAC) facilities as well as hindered efforts to facilitate health information exchange.”

In a public statement, HIMSS noted the draft report language healthcare organizations want to see in FY18 emphasizes the problems with lacking a consistent patient data matching solution and frames the pursuit of a strategy to implement a national patient identifier as a top priority for secure EHR health data exchange.

“This report language would mark a recognition by Congress of the need to remove barriers to HHS engaging with the private sector to develop solutions to improve the accuracy and efficiency of patient data matching,” wrote HIMSS. 

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