Lawmakers build patient matching into HHS budget

interoperability
Lawmakers want HHS to focus on patient matching, an issue health IT groups have previously called for.

Members of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations have devoted less money in the federal budget to health IT initiatives overall, but lawmakers want officials to use the funding they do have to focus on patient matching—a position supported by health IT organizations for some time.

In a report (PDF) released ahead of Wednesday morning’s markup of the committee’s 2018 budget bill, which maintained a $22 million cut to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) proposed by the Trump administration, lawmakers pointed to patient data matching, along with prescription drug monitoring, as two agency priorities in the coming year.

RELATED: House panel slashes ONC funding, maintains OCR’s budget

Part of the appropriations bill would require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to issue a report outlining the benefits of a patient matching system in the Medicare program. That report would be due within 12 months after the bill is enacted.

“The Committee is aware that a number of patient matching systems are currently being used in the commercial sector, but one has yet to be adopted in Medicare,” the report stated.

Lawmakers also pointed to inconsistencies in matching patient data as a major barrier to interoperability and called on ONC to engage with private-sector stakeholders to develop a coordinated strategy. However, the appropriations bill maintains a provision prohibiting the use of funds to develop a unique patient identifier.

The emphasis on patient matching was lauded by Health IT Now, one of 25 organizations that called on Congress earlier this year to allow federal agencies to support private efforts to match patient data.

“The Appropriations Committee’s report takes an important step forward by showing that Congress will not stand in the way of private sector innovations to curb patient identification errors,” Health IT Now Executive Director Joel White said in a statement. “With studies finding that hospital medical errors are now the third leading cause of death in the US, we applaud the Committee for including this much-needed directive and working to give our health care professionals a full, accurate picture of patients’ health information.”

RELATED: ECRI—Patient identification errors common, potentially fatal

The ONC has already taken steps to improve patient matching, launching a Patient Matching Algorithm Challenge in May that will award up to six cash prizes totaling $75,000.

The House committee also encouraged ONC to do its part in curbing the prescription drug epidemic by supporting pilot programs designed to identify usability challenges between prescription drug monitoring programs, EHRs and e-prescribing systems. Physicians have often pointed to the interoperability issues between PDMPs and EHRs as a primary reason more physicians don’t use them.

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