Congress made the commitment to bring the U.S. health system into the modern computing age with the passage of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act in 2009. It then double downed on that commitment seven years later with the 21st Century Cures Act, putting the patient in the driver’s seat of where and when this new digital information travels from location to location.
The next step Congress can take to realize a fully interoperable health system that captures and exchanges patient data across health systems with 100% confidence and minimal errors would be to remove the long-standing federal funding ban on a unique patient identifier (UPI) standard.
For years, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives has fought for the removal of this ban to protect patients, promote trust in health data exchange and lower costs across the healthcare system. The urgency has increased with the race to vaccinate Americans against COVID-19 to counter the spread of the virus as more transmissible variants fuel another surge.
The lack of a national strategy for patient identification has left the U.S. healthcare system with a patchwork of solutions based on proprietary numbering systems and matching algorithms that are costly and prone to errors. In fact, we are seeing that even the most well-resourced providers are not able to reach 100% accuracy in their own systems, despite spending millions of dollars to improve match rates.
Anecdotally, our members have shared the difficulties they have experienced when trying to identify and match patients throughout the COVID-19 vaccination process, including:
- The inability to report accurate vaccination data to state registries, impacting some providers’ ability to receive additional doses of vaccine.
- The creation of thousands of duplicate records, costing some hospitals and health systems at least $12,000 a day to rectify the errors.
- The inability for patient vaccination status to be captured in the patient’s electronic health record.
Healthcare executives like our members and others who oversee the purchase and deployment of technology across healthcare settings are in a strong position to help solve patient misidentification.
Last June, CHIME and five other healthcare organizations founded Patient ID Now, a diverse coalition of 40 healthcare organizations committed to advancing a nationwide strategy to address patient identification through legislation and regulations. We are calling for the removal of Section 510 in the Labor-HHS Appropriations bill, which prohibits federal funding of a UPI standard. Removing 510 would allow HHS the flexibility to collaborate with the private sector to develop a national strategy to accurately connect patients to their health data. While existing law does not prohibit HHS from examining issues around patient matching, its narrow interpretation of the ban has effectively shut down the study of unique health identifiers or the advancement of a national strategy.
Thanks to the coalition’s efforts, we are making headway. The House of Representatives voted in a bipartisan manner to repeal the ban for the past two fiscal years, most recently with the support of Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) who in this Congress became chair of the House Appropriations Committee.
In March, the coalition held a virtual “Patient ID Day” that resulted in nearly 1,700 emails going to Capitol Hill requesting Section 510 be removed, and a number of organizations highlighting the issue on social media with the hashtag #PatientIDNow. On April 1, the coalition sent a letter to House and Senate appropriators signed by more than 100 stakeholders urging them to continue the bipartisan will of the House by removing Section 510 from the fiscal 2022 Labor-HHS Appropriations bill.
We need reliable, accurate and secure data sharing now more than ever. Thankfully, we have never been closer to removing this obstacle and taking another step toward fulfilling the great promise of interoperability. The coalition, which is free to join, is welcoming new members. If you are interested in having your organization become a member, you can apply on the website patientidnow.org.