A Health and Human Services agency is encouraging healthcare providers, public health agencies and other organizations to consider adopting a new data standard for documenting patient addresses in healthcare.
The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology on Friday released the final version of Project US@, a technical specification designed as an industrywide data standard for patient addresses. ONC has been working on Project US@ with standards development and health IT organizations since launching the effort in early 2021.
ONC officials said they encourage state and federal agencies, public health organizations, payers, health IT developers, research organizations and healthcare providers to consider implementing the Project US@ standard.
While healthcare organizations are required to be able to exchange data on patients' current and previous addresses, per ONC's data-sharing rule, they aren't required to use a specific format when doing so.
That's been cited as one factor in the healthcare industry's ongoing patient-matching problem. Patients usually share their name, date of birth and other demographic details with a registrar before a medical appointment, so that they can be matched with their existing medical record. But subtle inconsistencies in how that information is documented can complicate that process.
If organizations use the same data standard for demographic data like addresses, that hopefully will help to more accurately match patients with their medical records, as well as to match medical records across different provider organizations, according to ONC.
Patient matching is critical for interoperability, since hospitals can't share medical records with one another if they can't pinpoint the appropriate record to share.
"A standardized patient address might seem like a small thing, but that's precisely why this work was important," said Steve Posnack, deputy national coordinator for health IT at ONC, in a news release. "Improving the accuracy and consistency of addresses will have a big impact if implemented at scale."
The Project US@ standard, which ONC developed with standards development organizations like Health Level 7, the National Council for Prescription Drug Programs and X12, describes how various parts of a patient address—such as address number and street name—should be formatted and abbreviated, as well as what special characters can be used.
ONC will continue to work on Project US@ in 2022, including guidance on tribal communities, geolocation data, and provider and facility addresses.
ONC on Friday also released a "companion guide" with best practices and guidance for capturing and managing patient address data, which it developed with the American Health Information Management Association.