Which Maria Garcia? Bipartisan center seeks to improve patient data matching

Better ways to match patient data in EHRs across healthcare settings is vital to improving quality, reducing errors and cutting costs, according to a new brief from the the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC).

It points to a wide variability in approaches at physician practices, hospitals, laboratories, pharmacies and other settings when matching patients to the right data, which creates a labor-intensive and costly burden. Plus the error rate can be as high as 20 percent, potentially leading to medical errors as well as privacy and security breaches.

In Harris County, Texas, for example, there are 2,488 patients named Maria Garcia and 231 of them have the same birth date. In that county alone, there are 69,807 pairs of patients who share both names and birth date. So how can the healthcare system make sure patient records are matched correctly?

 "Across the country, hospitals and physicians, as well as state and community-based health information exchange initiatives, are struggling with the lack of national standards and policies for improving the accuracy and reducing the burden of matching patient data. Advancement of the strategies outlined in BPC's issue brief will help to address these growing challenges," said Janet Marchibroda, chair of BPC's Health IT Initiative.

The brief points to a recent CHIME survey of 128 senior hospital executives in which participants said their organizations required, on average, more than three full-time workers to reconcile records.

Based on research and input provided by more than 30 leaders representing consumers, clinicians, health plans, hospitals, health IT vendors and government, the brief called on providers and vendors, working closely with patient groups and states, to collaborate on strategies to overcome the challenges, including:

  • Standardizing the data fields used for matching across settings, as well as data content and data validation methods.

  • Establishing widely shared and accepted benchmarks for acceptable levels of matching accuracy.

  • Developing and implementing methods for sharing best practices.

  • Moving toward shared services across multiple entities to promote standardization, improve accuracy and reduce burden.

  • Assessing, through a public, transparent process, the feasibility, impact, and level of consumer acceptance for implementing a unique patient identifier--that can be voluntary and consumer-directed--with appropriate safeguards to protect patient privacy.

It notes that the Department of Health and Human Services is taking comment through Friday on data elements and standards for patient data matching, and a new BPC report on the issue is due out in the fall.

In its previous brief, issued in January, the BPC called for greater alignment of financial incentives to improve care and to accelerate health information exchanges. 

To learn more:
- read the full brief
- here's the announcement
- check out the CHIME survey

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