Patient Identity: Getting Back to Basics for National Health IT Week

Monday kicked off National Health IT week! While the United States has made progress in moving towards a more modern healthcare system, significant work remains. There’s no disputing that our medical device and health technology companies are the most advanced on the planet, developing the solutions that are diagnosing diseases earlier, expanding treatment options, and improving quality of life. However, when it comes to healthcare and identity—making sure that the correct data is associated with the right patient, and ensuring that that information is able to be shared, analyzed, and acted upon in a timely fashion—the United States lags woefully behind many other developed nations.


A Sunday Wall Street Journal article is case in point. The article summarizes a study from the ECRI Institute that shows not only how widespread medical ID errors are, but just how devastating their impact can be. Researchers examined 7,613 cases of mistaken patient identities in health systems across the United States voluntarily reported by providers. While 91 percent of identification errors were caught before patients were harmed, some resulted in injury and even death.


The report’s authors called on “all health-care facilities to adopt a standardized protocol to verify patient identities.” While there is clearly a role for improved policies on the part of providers, the real solution is moving beyond a patient identification system founded solely on data points—such as the patient’s name—towards one based on secure hardware solutions, such as a smart patient identity card.


This is one of the reasons why the Secure ID Coalition is supporting the Medicare Common Access Card Act (H.R. 3220). This bipartisan proposal would institute a pilot program to replace the current paper Medicare card with a secure smart card. In doing so, we would provide seniors with a bona fide health ID that will not only reduce fraud, but also make sure patients are matched to their correct health records.


The importance of a robust healthcare identity system to improving care cannot be overstated. For example, in many doctors’ offices, patient’s names are used as primary identifiers. In the absence of a robust identification system, when two patients with the name “John Smith” are entered into the database, confusion can easily result. Perhaps staffers are unsure about which John Smith is the correct one, and as a result create an entirely new record, compounding the problem.


Indeed, the ECRI study quoted about found that about 13 percent of identification errors occurred during the patient registration process, “in part because some [electronic medical record] systems aren’t finely tuned to recognize minor variations in name spellings.” New York City’s Mount Sinai Health System found that by investing in a smart card identity system, it was not only able to reduce cases of mistaken patient identity, but save millions of dollars on database deduplication.


If you think providing seniors with a secure health credential that can minimize the occurrence of health ID errors is important, we’d love to hear from you. Please click here to access the Secure ID Coalition’s Health ID Action Center, where you can send a message to your member of Congress about the importance of improving our health ID system—starting with the Medicare card.


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