HIMSS urges Congress: Create a national patient identifier

HIMSS has asked Congress to support the development of a "nationwide patient identity solution" to promote interoperability and reduce errors related to mismatches between health data and patients. The association of health IT professionals also requested that Congress continue to support the adoption of health IT and not cut off funding for the government's electronic health record incentive program.

While there has been no overt effort to repeal the HITECH Act, which authorized up to $27 billion in incentives for Meaningful Use of EHRs, anything is considered possible as Congress moves to reduce the size of the federal budget deficit. So HIMSS' appeal is more than just pro forma.

"National efforts to transform healthcare delivery systems and to bend the cost curve, including implementation of improved quality measures and reporting systems, are entirely dependent on the widest possible adoption of EHRs and [health information exchange]," HIMSS says in its recommendation to Congress. "Meaningful Use of EHRs supports quality reporting that helps providers analyze and continually improve the quality of care they provide."

Moreover, HIMSS adds, many small practices and smaller community hospitals would not have the resources to implement EHRs without government financial support.

While the politicians might buy these arguments, HIMSS' plea for a national patient identity solution could prove to be a harder sell. Not only would new legislation be required, but Congress has tabled the idea of a national patient identifier, year after year, since 1999. One issue has been the fear that it would be too easy to hijack personal health information if there were universal ID numbers.

HIMSS points out that "between 8 and 14 percent of medical records include erroneous information tied to an incorrect patient identity, costing hundreds of millions of dollars per year to correct and resulting in serious risk to patient safety. With the numerous benefits of EHRs and HIE also come potential opportunities for patient-data mismatches."

In the absence of a national standard, HIMSS notes, every healthcare system has its own patient identification system, impeding the exchange of healthcare data with other organizations. "The multitude of different solutions and the lack of a national coordinated approach pose major challenges for our health information infrastructure. Patient safety, privacy, and security depend on getting this core element right, and soon."

With advances in health IT, HIMSS emphasizes, it is no longer necessary to give every patient a national ID number or card. What would be required are "national standards and solutions" that would facilitate information exchange. Among the solutions that would ensure patient privacy, the organization says, are "metadata identification tagging, access credentialing, and sophisticated algorithms." 

To learn more:
- read the HIMSS recommendations
- see the Healthcare IT News story