Six healthcare groups have launched a coalition to advocate for Congress to remove a longtime ban on developing a national patient identifier.
The American College of Surgeons, American Health Information Management Association, College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, Intermountain Healthcare and Premier healthcare alliance are founding members of the coalition, called Patient ID Now.
The groups said they launched Patient ID Now to advocate for legislation and regulations that address problems linked with misidentifying patients, such as issues with patient safety and care costs. Matching patients to the right record could prove particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, as public health entities need longitudinal data to inform national response.
A major focus of the coalition will be encouraging Congress to repeal a section of law that has prohibited HHS from using funds to develop a national patient identifier.
"Intermountain Healthcare believes that the best thing for our patients and members is removing the appropriations ban on a unique patient identifier," Marc Probst, Intermountain's vice president and chief information officer, said in a statement. Probst will retire from his roles at the health system later this month.
"We are committed to helping make this happen," he said. "Lifting the ban will enable a national solution to our current inability to consistently and accurately identify patients to their health records. Lifting the archaic appropriations ban on a unique patient health identifier will save lives and is long overdue."
A national patient identifier—which would give patients permanent, unique identification numbers—has been banned by lawmakers for decades on account of privacy and security concerns, but the discussion has been reopened in recent years, in part due to pressure from health IT groups.
The House of Representatives in June 2019 voted to overturn the ban, but the Senate did not follow suit.
Instead, Congress last year directed HHS' Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to submit a report evaluating current patient identification practices and recommendations for future approaches, which it said could include recommendations related to a unique patient health identifier.
Some healthcare experts have stressed that while a national patient identifier could help to ease patient-matching woes for providers, it wouldn't be a silver bullet. Patient-matching is a complex issue, which will likely require a mix of improvements related to data standards, new types of data, innovative technologies and other best practices, they say.
Even in countries that have issued national identification numbers, patient-matching rates aren't 100%, Ben Moscovitch, project director for health IT at the Pew Charitable Trusts, said at a working session that ONC convened in June to solicit feedback for its report to Congress. If the U.S. implemented a national patient identifier, it would likely be used in addition to other demographic data already used today for matching.
"Unique identifiers would certainly improve match rates, but they wouldn't be a panacea," Moscovitch said at the June working session.