Senators ask GAO to expand patient matching study

A bipartisan group of senators is asking the Government Accountability Office to expand the scope of its review of patient matching within electronic medical records to include the cost and patient care impact of mismatches.

The 21st Century Cures Act requires the GAO to conduct a study on patient matching to protect patient privacy and security. Part of the watchdog agency’s assessment includes reviewing policies and procedures at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT as well as the private sector, and determine whether federal officials should take additional steps to define data elements or expand EHR standards.

The law requires GAO to submit the report to Congress by December 2018.

In a letter to GAO Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro, Elizbeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, and Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, requested the agency “provide data on the prevalence of patient data mismatches as well as the costs and risks associated with these mismatches.”

“In developing these recommendations, we urge you to consider how ONC could improve patient matching by considering the application of a national patient matching strategy,” the senators wrote.

RELATED: Lawmakers build patient matching into HHS budget

Although some groups, like the Center for Data Innovation, support the creation of a national patient identify, Congress has banned the Department of Health and Human Services from using funds to create a unique patient identifier. Last year, however, lawmakers allowed HHS to examine issues around patient matching, leading ONC to launch a patient matching challenge earlier this year.

In June, members of the House Committee on Appropriations singled outpatient matching as a priority for ONC in the coming year. More than two dozen organizations have called on lawmakers to allow ONC to provide technical assistance to patient matching initiatives in the private sector.