The American Medical Informatics Association has come out in support of a proposed government-sponsored patient identification number to facilitate the use of electronic medical records.
The board of directors of the 3,200-member AMIA, based in Bethesda, Md., voted to back the position taken this summer by an affiliate of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers on creating a voluntary healthcare identifier.
The IEEE-USA, a 225,000-member Washington, D.C.-based group, in June approved a recommendation that Congress give authority and funding to HHS and the National Committee on Health and Vital Statistics to develop and run a voluntary healthcare identifier system.
IEEE-USA also called upon the government to provide strong criminal and civil penalties for violations of privacy and security regarding the database as well as to create incentives to encourage its adoption and use.
Don Detmer, M.D. president and chief executive officer of AMIA, said the IEEE-USA initiative resembles a proposal adopted last year by the Health Information and Management Systems Society, a Chicago-based trade association of information technology vendors.
"We support both," said Detmer, a member of the Institute of Medicine and professor emeritus and professor of medical education in the health evaluation sciences department at the University of Virginia.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 called for the development of national identification numbers for patients, providers, health plans and employers, but HHS halted work on the patient identifier in the face of resistance from privacy advocates.
"It got caught up in almost a frenzy of publicity and because of this, (then-) Vice President Gore pulled it off the table," Detmer said. "What was unfortunate was we never had an open public debate of the benefits and liabilities. The privacy advocates said there was no good side, yet Europe, with 300 million people, has had this for years."
Detmer acknowledged there might be ideological reluctance within the Bush administration to increase federal involvement in healthcare issues, yet the same administration "has seen increasingly the benefits that IT can have."
The wording on the resolution, making participation voluntary, is a key selling point for the proposal, in Detmer's view.
"People ought to be able to say, 'Look, I want reasonable protections, but I see more to gain with this than to lose.' Whether the government will shy away from this, it's too early to tell."
On Jan. 23, the CMS published a final rule under HIPAA on a National Provider Identifier that would create an ID number for all healthcare providers. When implemented, the rule will require all "covered entities" to use only the NPI to identify providers in standard transactions. Registration is to begin May 23, 2005, with a final compliance for most covered entities by May 27, 2007.
Meanwhile, the National Council for Prescription Drug Programs, a trade group of healthcare entities that deal with electronic transactions for prescription drugs, is operating HCIdea, an independent, involuntary program launched two years ago to create IDs for all healthcare providers who write prescriptions. HCIdea identifies prescribers by using computer matching programs, multiple databases and streams of insurance claims.
The council in August announced it had more than 1 million providers in its database with 1.5 million as its goal.