Center for Data Innovation wants HHS to implement universal patient identifiers

A think tank that studies the intersection of data and public policy is asking Congress to adopt unique patient identifiers and improve data collection for the LGBT community.

Those were two of the 10 recommendations proposed by the Center for Data Innovation in a report  (PDF) released this week aimed at identifying areas where the federal government can improve the way it collects and uses data.

The idea of creating a national patient identifier has been supported by some in the industry, but it has also emerged as a contentious legislative issue.

Since 1999, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and Related Agencies appropriations bills have prohibited federal agencies from using funds to create a unique patient identifier, although lawmakers have eased their position recently. Last year, the House Appropriations Committee indicated the Department of Health and Human Services could examine issues surrounding patient matching. In response, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT launched a patient matching challenge earlier this month.

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Organizations like ECRI have pointed out that patient identification errors are far too common in healthcare, leading to patient harm in some cases. 

The Center for Data Innovation urged Congress to direct HHS to implement a unique identifier, arguing that it would allow providers to easily and accurately link patients to their medical records and improve interoperability.

The organization also criticized HHS for rolling back data collection efforts associated with LGBT populations, which “limits the availability of critical information” on health disparities within that population. Authors of the report said Congress should “establish uniform policies for federal agencies to collect data on sexual orientation and gender identity” and require all health programs that receive federal funding to collect that information as well.

RELATED: AHIMA: Patient portals, data management integral to engaging LGBT patients

Organizations like the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) have said IT systems can help overcome health data disparities for LGBT patients, noting that more robust data can help identify gaps in care.