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National Patient ID: Good, Bad and Necessary

31 Jul 2015 by Christine Kern

When HIPAA was passed in 1996, it called for the creation of a unique health identifier for individuals to further safer, more effective healthcare. In 1999, however, Congress halted federal funding for the project, citing privacy concerns.

The development and widespread adoption of Electronic Health Records (EHRs) as well as the emphasis on interoperability and secure national health data exchange has reignited the push for a national patient identifier.

Benefits from a national patient ID

Mark Summers, healthcare expert, PA Consulting Group, explains, “While the ONC [Office of the National Coordinator] has begun the push for interoperability, the ONC stops short of calling for a national patient identifier. Let’s acknowledge that we need a national patient identifier to achieve true interoperability and the vision so many have outlined…until a reliable way to uniquely identify patients is accessible to all stakeholders in the healthcare industry, the visions outlined for a truly interoperable environment where information is shared seamlessly will not be realized.”

Leslie Krigstein of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) asserts that such an identifier would help ensure that when multiple providers are treating a single patient, they each are looking at the right records. She explains, “As we continue to talk about the need for more fluidity of health data and the need for patients to have complete access to their records, we really need to make sure that we are, in fact, sharing the information of a particular patient.”

Consequences of no national patient ID

In fact, CHIME is so invested in the idea of a national patient ID that it has put its money where its mouth is, establishing a $1 million challenge to increase the success rate of patient ID matching from 80 to 100%.  In the absence of a national patient ID system, there is a 1 in 5 chance that a patient’s safety, privacy or security may be compromised as part of their healthcare, according to a recent government study. 

In addition, a 2013 study published in the “Journal of Patient Safety” concluded more than 400,000 hospital patients die from preventable medical errors every year in the United States alone. Preventable medical errors are the third largest killer of Americans, next to cancer and heart disease.

Prerequisites for a national patient ID

And another recent study found that elderly patients may be willing to let family members access their medical records in order to make decisions on their behalf, even as they retain control of their health information. This study suggests that flexibility must be an option in planning access to patient records.

“The creation of a unique patient ID is critical to the continued evolution of EMR/EHR and reducing healthcare costs,” says Brian Cea, healthcare business development manager at Insight. “A unique identifier not only will allow for the secure electronic transfer of protected patient information but will help the patient have better control over their health records. This ultimately will lead to cost savings downstream.”

Of course, creating a national patient identifier is not enough; security must also be applied to protect the information that is being transmitted between healthcare providers.

“However, like any identifier, it must be protected and secure or it can lead to trouble,” Cea says. “Layers of security are essential, and it is on everyone (providers, payers, patients) to ensure that it does not get into the wrong hands.”

See how Insight can help your healthcare organization develop patient information sharing technologies and ensure the data is adequately protected with the right layers of security.