Unique patient ID problem must be solved

By Bernie Monegain
07:57 PM
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Need to improve accuracy called a matter of patient safety
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When Russell P. Branzell, CEO of CHIME, told an audience of about 600 CIOs at the CIO Spring Forum at HIMSS15 on Sunday that CHIME would not rest until one of healthcare's most tenacious problems - the patient identifier – was solved, the room broke into applause.

"Primarily it is our ethical duty as HIT professionals to solve this patient safety issue," he told the audience. "We're not pulling any punches. We're taking on the Holy Grail.

As Branzell has explained, interoperability is critical, but it's not enough. For data to realize its full potential, it must be accurate and attached to the right patient. It's a matter of patient safety. It could be a matter of life or death.

"There is a growing consensus among payers and providers that a unique patient ID would radically reduce medical errors and save lives," Branzell said when he announced on March 17 that CHIME would pay $1 million to the person or team who could solve the longstanding conundrum of how to get it done.

"Incomplete or duplicate health records present significant issues in terms of patient safety, and there is a pressing need for preventing, detecting and removing inaccurate records so hospitals can positively match the right data with the right patient in order to provide the best possible care," he said.

"We're developing challenge criteria," Branzell told the audience. "The interest is overwhelming."

Duplicate or inaccurate patient records can occur from manual data entry errors, or when two or more individuals share the same name. This presents considerable concern for different individuals being identified as the same patient, potentially resulting in inadequate treatment or unintended injury.

According to a 2012 CHIME survey of healthcare CIOs, error rates due to patient mismatching averaged eight percent and ranged up to 20 percent. Moreover, 19 percent of the 128 respondents indicated that their hospital had experienced an adverse event during the course of the previous year due to a patient information mismatch.

One of the "basic challenges that we face," says Jack Wolf, Montefiore Medical Center's chief information officer, "is the lack of a unique patient identifier.

"An individual might show up to an emergency room that's not part of our system, but we might be at risk for their healthcare. Or it might just be that they decide that they want to go to a different provider or a different specialist, outside or inside of our network. And when they move from one location to another, it's difficult to say that Jack Wolf is the same Jack Wolf in the Montefiore system, now presenting in the emergency room of a Bronx-Lebanon or a Saint Barnabas."