HIT group calls for voluntary unique patient identifiers for EHRs

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The National Alliance for Health Information Technology (NAHIT) is calling for a national system of unique patient identification numbers to which patients would voluntarily subscribe.

The system would be more secure, accurate and reliable than the prevailing practice of using information such as name, address and birth date to match patients with their medical records in distributed networks, alliance officials said.

“One of the biggest obstacles to progress in developing an interoperable national health information network remains reaching agreement on how to correctly match medical information to patients while guarding their privacy,” said Scott Wallace, NAHIT’s president and CEO. “It is time to come to consensus on this issue so we can move forward on a system that will help transform healthcare in America.”

Led by its Technology Leadership and Policy Committees, the alliance concluded that the current statistical process for matching patients to their records based on such attributes as name, address and birth date is too unreliable and has focused on the issue of patient identification for three years, including holding forums, reviewing research and gathering input from a range of experts, including some of its members.

“Outside of carefully controlled pilots, accuracy for the current process is roughly 90 percent, based on our collective experience and industry estimates,” said Tom Doyle, vice president and chief architect for HCA and a member of the Alliance’s Technology Leadership Committee. “That margin of error will only widen as it is applied to ever-larger populations.”

According to Doyle, a system of unique identifiers would not only make medical information much more complete and accurate, but more private and secure.

Voluntary unique identifiers also put control in the hands of the patients. “We believe it is in the best interests of consumers to be able to collect, track and manage their personal information,” said Michael Kappel, senior vice president, government strategy and relations for McKesson Provider Technologies, and chair of the alliance’s Policy Committee. “Unique identifiers can help make this effort more comprehensive and reliable while allowing people to decide who else has access to their health records without worrying about incomplete information or identification mix-ups.”

As part of the consensus-building process, NAHIT is soliciting input and comments on unique patient identifiers on its website at www.nahit.org.