AHIMA, CHIME, others lobby Capitol Hill for unique patient ID

The groups urge the Senate to follow the House's lead and finally lift the ban on federal funding for a nationwide unique patient identifier, making the case that it can help avoid serious safety risks due to matching errors.
By Mike Miliard
11:04 AM

Members of the American Health Information Management Association and the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives were in Washington this week, calling on the United States Senate to follow the lead of the House of Representatives in removing the longstanding ban on federal funding for research into nationwide patient identifier

Leaders from AHIMA and CHIME – which represent health information management professionals and health system CIOs respectively – made the case to Congress that lifting the ban on federal funding for a unique patient ID would enable the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to work with private sector organizations to explore new solutions to improve patient matching – protecting privacy while reducing a major risk of medical errors.

On July 22, AHIMA and CHIME, as well as members from the American Medical Informatics Association and the American College of Surgeons, held a briefing to show Senate leaders the scope of patient identification challenges and illustrate the safety implications when data is matched to the wrong patient or is missing from a patient’s record due to identity issues.

"Those of us who work in provider organizations have seen the serious consequences of this ban on patients and their families," said Marc Probst, CIO at Intermountain Healthcare.

"Misidentifications threaten patient safety and drive unnecessary costs to health systems in an era when the industry and Congress are trying to lower healthcare costs," Probst explained. "Congress has an opportunity to fix this, but only if the Senate also removes the ban on a unique patient identifier."

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 246 to 178 this past month to repeal the ban as part of the FY2020 Labor, HHS and Education and Related Agencies Appropriations bills – a major development on this front after years of political inaction.

Two decades ago, HIPAA initially required the creation of a unique health identifier, but Congress, citing privacy concerns, added provision to it annual appropriations legislation that prohibited the HHS from using federal funds to develop a UPI.

So as healthcare has become digitized in the ensuing years, with electronic health records becoming so critical to the delivery of care, providers have had to come up with their own methods of more accurately identifying patients who may share the same names or dates of birth.

Over the years, groups such as CHIME and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT have sought creative approaches to the patient matching problem, and industry groups have been lobbying Congress to take the issue seriously for some time.

But for years, the specific challenge of the nationwide unique patient identifier was elusive. Removal of the ban on federal money for UPI would enable a much more coordinated approach between the public and private sectors to address this serious hurdle to improved patient safety.

“Critical to patient safety and care coordination is ensuring patients are accurately identified and matched to their data,” said AHIMA CEO Wylecia Wiggs Harris, in a statement. "The time has come to remove this archaic ban and empower HHS to explore a full range of patient matching solutions hand in hand with the private sector focused on increasing patient safety and moving us closer to achieving nationwide interoperability.”

“Now more than ever we need a nationwide unique patient identifier to ensure that patients are correctly identified in our increasingly digital healthcare ecosystem,” added CHIME President and CEO Russell Branzell. “This is a top priority for our members. We applaud the House for taking a leadership role on this issue by removing the ban and we strongly encourage the Senate to do the same.”

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
Email the writer: mike.miliard@himssmedia.com

Healthcare IT News is a publication of HIMSS Media.

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Above photo: Dr Gamaliel Tan (in grey), Group CMIO, NUHS during NTFGH's HIMSS EMRAM 7 revalidation (virtual) in November 2020. Credit: NTFGH

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