National patient identifier: Exploring the pros and cons

The debate about creating a national patient identifier is a contentious one--some think it can help protect privacy, others think it won't bring any added benefits to healthcare.

A national patient ID could help alleviate worries patients have about the security of their health information, Douglas Fridsma, M.D., Ph.D., president and CEO of the American Medical Informatics Association, tells STAT.

He adds that the conversation has been too focused on how it will help the American health system, and not Americans themselves.

Twila Brase, RN, cofounder and president of Citizens' Council for Health Freedom, is on the other side of the debate. She tells STAT that a national ID will allow any physician to see opinions of other providers the patient has seen, which could bias their thinking. In addition, she says, patients who do not have an ID may not be able to receive care.

The discussion on a national patient identifier has persisted for quite a while, but will continue to heat up in part because of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives' recently announced national patient ID challenge. The organization is calling on entrepreneurs to develop a safe and private identifier; the winner will receive a $1 million prize.

CHIME also, in July, called on the Senate at address the need for a patient ID.

Despite such efforts, challenges remain.

For every person like Michael G. Greenberg, Ph.D., senior behavioral scientist for the RAND Corporation, who tells STAT the ID could reduce errors and improve data sharing, there's another healthcare professional, like Adrian Gropper, chief technology officer for Patient Privacy Rights, who calls the identifier a "coercive surveillance" that won't add to U.S. healthcare. 

To learn more:
- read the STAT article