HHS questions GOP calls to suspend meaningful use

Meanwhile, Mostashari said a national patient identifier is not the answer to the problem of matching patients to records from disparate databases, a major barrier to true EHR interoperability. When asked by a CHIME member about the ID issue, Mostashari responded with a question of his own: "Have our patient-matching problems gone away for all our elderly patients on Medicare? They all have a number."

The national coordinator said the quality and completeness of attributes in each database is more important than a national ID. "Let's do what we can do today," he advised.

The 1996 HIPAA law called on HHS to create a national patient ID, but Congress in 1999 voted not to fund the effort, citing privacy concerns, even though the federal government was running a budget surplus then. There has since been little desire in Washington to revisit the idea.

[See also: Mostashari goes Harry Potter on EHRs]