Healthcare groups cheer House move to overturn ban on nationwide patient identifier

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Many health IT leaders see the creation of unique patient identifiers as critical to solving issues with patient matching and potentially minimizing misidentification and medical errors. (turk_stock_photographer/Getty Images)

Healthcare and health IT groups are applauding federal lawmakers' efforts to help establish a unique patient identifier in U.S. healthcare.

Many health IT leaders see the investigation and creation of unique patient identifiers as critical to solving issues with patient matching and potentially minimizing misidentification and medical errors. And this effort is even more crucial amid a global health crisis, the groups say.

On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the six-bill FY2021 minibus package that includes the Labor-Health and Human Services appropriations bill. As part of the bill, the House approved by voice vote the bipartisan Foster-Kelly Amendment, which strikes Section 510 of the Labor-HHS bill and removes the ban on using federal funding to create patient identifiers.

The long-standing ban has stifled innovation around patient identification issues and has prevented the Department of Health and Human Services from engaging the healthcare community to develop and advance a comprehensive nationwide patient matching strategy, according to healthcare leaders.

Reps. Bill Foster (D-IL) and Mike Kelly (R-PA) have led the efforts in the House of Representatives to remove the ban for the past two years.

RELATED: Groups urge Congress to take action on patient identifier as COVID-19 raises the stakes

Industry efforts to establish a unique patient identifier in U.S. healthcare hit a roadblock last year. A similar measure passed the House last year, but Senate appropriators failed to include language overturning the two-decade-old ban in the draft fiscal year 2020 funding bill for HHS.

"There has never been a clearer need to have accurate patient information. Filling in these critical gaps of data are essential to effectively respond to any public health crisis," said Joel White, Health Innovation Alliance (HIA) executive director in a statement.

"We applaud Representatives Foster and Kelly for their leadership in this effort and look forward to its full Congressional passage and implementation by the Administration." 

Striking Section 510 from the Labor-HHS appropriations bill will provide the HHS the ability to evaluate a full range of patient matching solutions and enable it to work with the private sector to identify a solution that is cost-effective, scalable, secure and one that protects patient privacy, HIA said.

RELATED: House votes to lift ban on federal funding for unique patient identifier

A healthcare coalition called Patient ID Now also cheered the House vote.

Failure to accurately identify patients to their data raises patient safety and quality of care concerns, and those concerns have been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the coalition.

That group includes American College of Surgeons, the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), Intermountain Healthcare and Premier Healthcare Alliance. 

Accurate identification of patients is one of the most difficult operational issues during a public health emergency. Field hospitals and temporary testing sites intensify these challenges, and laboratories have reported difficulties returning COVID-19 results to the correct patients because of lack of comprehensive patient demographic data. Ensuring the correct patient medical history is accurately matched to the patient is critical for future patient care, patients’ long-term access to their complete health record, and for tracking the long-term effects of COVID-19, the Patient ID Now coalition said.

Hal Wolf, HIMSS CEO and president and CEO said House leaders' decisive action to eliminate the "outdated and harmful" appropriations ban on a unique patient identifier will permit HHS to actively engage in developing a national patient matching strategy.

"We encourage the Senate to include similar language in their appropriations bill, so the healthcare community can take action to advance patient safety through interoperable digital health information exchange," Wolf said.

RELATED: Sen. Rand Paul continues fight against patient identifier, introduces bill to overturn authority under HIPAA

A 2014 report from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) found that 7 out of every 100 patient records are mismatched. Worse still, the error rate is typically closer to 10% to 20% within a healthcare entity, and it rises to 50% to 60% when entities exchange with each other.

In a 2012 CHIME study, 20% of CHIME members could trace an adverse medical event to problems with patient identification and/or patient matching.

The lack of a consistent national strategy to accurately identify patients also exacerbates existing health inequities, healthcare leaders say.

Properly matching patients and their data not only improves care but saves resources, according to Patient ID Now.

The Ponemon Institute indicates that on average, 35% of all denied claims result directly from inaccurate patient identification or inaccurate and incomplete patient information, costing the average US healthcare system $1.2 million per year.

Last year, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, advocated against overturning the funding ban.

Paul, who is a physician, said that the establishment of a national patient ID would jeopardize patient privacy by "centralizing some of Americans’ most personal information." 

Former Congressman Ron Paul, R-Texas, Sen. Paul's father, introduced language to the Labor-HHS appropriations bill in 1998 that put the original ban in place. 

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