ONC seeks to standardize patient addresses with new Project US@

The agency aims to issue a unified industry-wide specification for representing addresses by the end of 2021.
By Kat Jercich
09:38 AM
A doctor points at an EHR on a tablet

(Photo by Ariel Skelley/Getty Images)

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT announced this week that it would soon launch a project to develop unified specifications for addresses in healthcare.  

ONC's Project US@ initiative – launched in conjunction with standards development organizations including HL7, the National Council for Prescription Drug Programs and X12 – aims to issue a unified, industry-wide specification for representing addresses by the end of 2021.  

"As mundane as address may seem it is often one of the key elements used for the purposes of patient matching and linking records," wrote Deputy National Coordinator for Health IT Steven Posnack in a Tuesday blog post explaining the initiative.  

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WHY IT MATTERS

Health IT professionals praised the move, calling it an important step for accuracy in patient matching.  

Ben Moscovitch, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ health IT initiative, pointed to previous Pew research showing that the use of a consistent mailing address format can lead to marked improvement in record linkage rates.  

"Although such progress would not completely solve the problem, address standardization can help improve record matches in the near-term with data that is collected and used," wrote Moscovitch in a blog post heralding the forthcoming project launch.

Moscovitch noted, as did Posnack, that even existing U.S. Postal Service guidelines for address formatting have limits. The same location, for instance, might be written "42 East Wallaby Way" or "42 E. Wallaby Wy," which would be adequate for mail to reach its destination but could create mismatching problems with medical records.

"Such mismatches can lead to unnecessary testing and care provided based on outdated or incomplete information. In addition, if a provider ends up referring to the record of the wrong person, patients might even receive care that isn’t right for them," wrote Moscovitch.  

By contrast, setting a single standard could help avoid matching errors and also improve data sharing among pharmacies and insurance companies, he noted.  

THE LARGER TREND

Although effective patient matching is essential for interoperability and safety – especially in the time of COVID-19 –  strategies for implementing it vary.  

In August, Sens. Maggie Hassan, D-New Hampshire, and Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, introduced the Patient Matching Improvement Act, which would make the USPS' address-matching tool available to hospitals and COVID-19 testing labs. (Although, again, this would not wholly solve the issue.)  

"Giving health care providers access to the Postal Service’s existing address tools would help save lives by making it easier to conduct COVID-19 contact tracing," said Sen. Hassan in a statement. "This common-sense bipartisan legislation should be included in the next COVID-19 relief package."  

Other efforts include expanding an existing person-matching framework to payers and turning to emerging biometrics technologies.  

ON THE RECORD

"Project US@ is reflective of how subtle improvements in health IT can have a big impact when implemented at a national scale," said Posnack. "By doing this together, we will be able to establish a lasting, industry-wide approach to representing patient addresses that is consistent across a spectrum of clinical and administrative transactions."

 

Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Email: kjercich@himss.org
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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