Pew Charitable Trusts urges VA to focus on patient matching, data standardization during EHR upgrade

David Shulkin
A letter to VA Secretary David Shulkin urges him to prioritize patient matching and data standardization in the agency's EHR transition.

The Department of Veterans Affairs' massive EHR overhaul presents an opportunity for the agency to make progress on several nagging health IT issues, according to one nonprofit policy think tank.

In a letter (PDF) to VA Secretary David Shulkin, Pew Charitable Trusts CEO Rebecca Rimel highlighted patient matching and data standardization as two “key obstacles” that the VA needs to resolve in order to achieve interoperability with the Department of Defense and private practices outside of the federal system. Shulkin has said the ability to exchange medical records with the DoD and outside hospitals was a critical element of his decision to replace Vista with Cerner’s system.

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“To achieve seamless care for veterans, health IT systems should be able to accurately match records wherever they are located,” Rimel wrote, adding that her organization has been exploring biometrics and demographic statistics to improve patient matching.

Researchers have pointed out that patient matching issues within EHRs can lead to fatal medical errors, prompting health IT groups to call on the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) to partner with the private sector to identify solutions. Last month, members of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations included provisions in the 2018 budget bill that would require the Department of Health and Human Services to issue a report on patient matching within 12 months of the bill’s enactment.

RELATED: Lawmakers build patient matching into HHS budget

Pew has made patient matching a research priority, highlighting common issues like typos and data formatting that can impede accurate medical record transfers.

To that end, Rimel also challenged Shulkin to identify ways the VA can advance the use of standards for critical patient data like vital signs, prescriptions and test results. Publicizing the VA’s strategy regarding data standardization and patient matching will give healthcare providers outside the VA’s system a framework to build on, she said.