Patient matching strategy gains ground with support from Congress
A national strategy to advance standards for matching patients with their own health records is one step closer to reality. Language encouraging HHS to support the development of a national strategy was added to the Congressional FY 2017 Omnibus bill approved by both houses of Congress.
The bill specifies that the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and CMS, “provide technical assistance to private-sector led initiatives to develop a coordinated national strategy that will promote patient safety by accurately identifying patients to their health information.”
The new directive changes course after 19 years in which HHS was prohibited from supporting work that would lead to a “unique patient identifier” due to privacy concerns. In effect, the bill establishes patient matching as a permitted exception that should be encouraged in the market.
In recent years, it has become clear there is a need for technology that would make simplify the matching a patient with their health records.
Carla Smith, HIMSS executive vice president, said that "No longer is a UPI considered a credible solution... the focus has shifted to patient data matching and the need for a coordinated national strategy across the public and private healthcare sectors.”
Smith said that HIMSS and collaborators been active in pursuing a change in policy. Part of that effort is an “Innovator In Residence Fellowship” which HIMSS has funded since 2013. The resident fellow who works in the Office of the HHS Chief Technology Officer, Adam Culbertson, has worked to gain adoption for patient matching strategies that are currently in development.
One of the projects supported by Culbertson is ONC’s Patient Matching Algorithm Challenge, which is currently soliciting entries. Steve Posnack, HHS director, office of standards and technology, wrote that ONC expects the challenge “will spur the development of innovative new algorithms, benchmark current performance, and help industry coalesce around common metrics for success.”
Congress reiterated its prohibition on HHS from supporting any standards “providing for the assignment of a unique health identifier.” But the bill’s language makes it clear that members of the Appropriations Committee who wrote the legislative language, understand the need to find a solution.
“Accordingly, the Committee encourages the Secretary, acting through the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and CMS, to provide technical assistance to private-sector led initiatives to develop a coordinated national strategy that will promote patient safety by accurately identifying patients to their health information,” the legislation states.