Health IT organizations lead another push to rework patient-matching regulations

A group of 25 organizations repeated a call for lawmakers to rewrite the language of next year’s appropriations bill to allow federal agencies to support private efforts to match patient data.

The letter (PDF), signed by a wide range of providers, medical associations and health IT coalitions, urged lawmakers in the House and Senate to restructure a fiscal year 2018 appropriations bill to allow the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) to “provide technical assistance to private sector-led initiatives” to accurately match patient health data.

Last year, the House Appropriations Committee acknowledged the issues surrounding the lack of a unique patient identifier and indicated HHS could examine issues surrounding patient matching. Changing the language in next year’s funding legislation would further clarify that position.

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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, which has also prevented HHS and the ONC from engaging in initiatives to improve the quality and consistency of patient data. The organizations noted that mismatched patient data can lead to misidentification and wrong-patient errors—an issue that has emerged as a significant concern for both patient safety advocates and health IT administrators.

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“The quality, safety and cost-effectiveness of healthcare across the nation will improve if a national strategy to accurately identify patients and match those patients to their health information is achieved,” the groups wrote.

The reluctance to alter legislative language can be traced back to the hotly debated topic of establishing a national patient ID, which has met resistance from lawmakers concerned about federal overreach into healthcare. Last year, health IT associations and insurers made a similar plea for lawmakers to change language within the FY2017 appropriations bill.