The National Alliance For Health Information Technology Calls for Creation of Voluntary Unique Patient Identifiers for Exchanging Electronic Health Records

“One of the biggest obstacles to progress in developing an interoperable national health information network remains reaching agreement on how to correctly match medical information to patients while guarding their privacy,” says Scott Wallace, the Alliance’s president and CEO. “It is time to come to consensus on this issue so we can move forward on a system that will help transform healthcare in America.”

Led by its Technology Leadership and Policy Committees, the Alliance has concluded that the current statistical process for matching patients to their records based on such attributes as name, address and birth date is too unreliable. The Alliance has been focusing on the issue of patient identification for three years, including holding forums, reviewing research and gathering input from a range of experts, including some of its members.

“Outside of carefully controlled pilots, accuracy for the current process is roughly 90 percent, based on our collective experience and industry estimates,” says Tom Doyle, Vice President and Chief Architect for HCA and a member of the Alliance’s Technology Leadership Committee. “That margin of error will only widen as it is applied to ever-larger populations.”

A system of unique identifiers would not only make medical information much more complete and accurate but more private and secure. An identifier’s single-use status, protected in a closed loop among participating providers and patients, reveals nothing about the person—it has no street value. That is in stark contrast to the existing process-of-elimination formula, which becomes more accurate as more types of information about a person are added but simultaneously increases the risk of identity theft.

Voluntary unique identifiers also put control in the hands of the patients. “We believe it is in the best interests of consumers to be able to collect, track and manage their personal information,” says Michael Kappel, Senior Vice President, Government Strategy and Relations for McKesson Provider Technologies, and Chair of the Alliance’s Policy Committee. “Unique identifiers can help make this effort more comprehensive and reliable while allowing people to decide who else has access to their health records without worrying about incomplete information or identification mix-ups.”

As part of the consensus-building process, the Alliance is soliciting input and comments on unique patient identifiers on its web site at www.nahit.org .

About the Alliance
The National Alliance for Health Information Technology is a diverse partnership of senior executives from all healthcare sectors working to advance the adoption of clinical information technology systems to achieve measurable improvements in patient safety, quality of care and operating performance. The Alliance collaborates with healthcare and government leaders to influence healthcare decision-makers to act effectively in creating an efficient, safe, unified, and inclusive health system possible. Since its founding in 2002, the Chicago-based Alliance has helped forge consensus and accelerate progress on such important initiatives as developing an industry-endorsed interoperability definition, creating a public directory of health IT standards and authoring Rules of Engagement: A proven path for instilling, and then installing a CPOE approach that works. The Alliance is a co-founder of the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT) and its CEO chaired the Commission on Systemic Interoperability (CSI). More information about the Alliance is available at www.nahit.org .

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Lois Padovani
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