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INDUSTRY-FIRST INTERVIEW: CHIME's Branzell on ONC's New Patient-Matching Initiative Launch

September 11, 2013
by Mark Hagland
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CHIME’s Russ Branzell gives an industry-first interview to HCI regarding the ONC’s most recent announcement

Fast on the heels of an announcement by the federal Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) on Sep. 11 that the agency was launching a patient matching initiative, the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based College of Health Information Management Executives (CHIME)  publicly applauded the ONC announcement, saluting the agency for its helping to unlock the potential to help patient care organizations to improve patient care quality and engage in population health management.

In the initial announcement on the ONC’s Health IT Buzz blogsite, Lee Stevens, the ONC’s policy director of its State HIE Program, wrote that, “As part of our ongoing effort to improve patient matching acreoss disparate systems, we are beginning a collaborative project to help identify the common denominators and best practices being used by private sector healthcare delivery systems and federal agencies. By identifying and recommending standardization of the basic attributes most commonly used for patient matching, we are looking to improve patient safety, care coordination, and effiency.”

Stevens added the following, in the announcement blog: “This new project will focus on two specific objectives related to patient matching: identifying the common attributes that achieve high positive match rates across disparate systems. The attributes may include common fields such as name, date of birth, address.” And the second area he cited: “defining the processes and best practices that are most effective to support high positive patient matching rates utilizing these attributes.”

In its announcement on its website the same morning, CHIME president and CEO Russell P. Branzell made the following statement: “Patient data-matching is a foundational component to the exchange of electronic health information—which, in turn, is a critical component for improved care coordination and quality improvement. Despite years of development,” he added in the statement, “no clear strategy has emerged to accurately and consistently match patient data. As we advance interoperability and health information exchange, we are delighted to see ONC take action to ensure the right data is matched with the right patient. This is a necessary, concrete step to bolster patient safety.”

And then moments later, Branzell gave HCI Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland an industry-first interview regarding the patient matching-related developments. Below are excerpts from that interview.

How do you interpret this announcement on the part of the ONC. Is the ONC leadership recognizing the challenges inherent in this area?

I think they are. I think they understand that there are certain linchpins in this process that can accelerate the adoption of HIT, as well as the benefits of that HIT adoption that we’ve all been looking for. And I think this really does mark a major recognition in an area that up until recently, really today, was considered off-limits. Even working on patient matching, let alone any true government identifier. Until recently, the fact is that patient matching was an area that wouldn’t even be discussed. And now to see something like that shift so dramatically—CHIME has been pleased to be one of the partners in this project, and has been involved in the discussions leading up to this announcement.

Russell P. Branzell

In your view, how hard a challenge is patient matching, with regard to all the aspects of the new healthcare—accountable care organization development, patient centered medical home development, population health management work, and so on?

This is a cornerstone item in our being able to advance in our overall healthcare initiative. And having listened to ONC say something—if we give you only one thing in the next six months to really help you leapfrog and move forward, what would it be? And CHIME and others have said, you have to help solve the patient matching issue, because it’s creating such havoc that if we don’t do this, we won’t achieve the Triple Aim. So I’m as pleased as I can be to see that we’ve seen essentially a 180-degree turn from this being a taboo item, to, let’s solve this. It really took leadership from ONC to do this, and this really is a hallmark item for Farzad to leave on, that this was even announced that we’re going to work on it.

Would you say that the progress in this area reflected in today’s ONC announcement reflects the success of CHIME’s long-term strategy of engaging in broad dialogue with the ONC and other federal agencies on behalf of its membership?

I think this reflects a constituency-based approach from ONC, to truly ask those who are creating the change, what they need. And I think this is a reflection of our commitment at CHIME to help solve these issues on a proactive basis, on behalf of the CHIME membership.

Just one more question, per other areas of engagement with ONC. Are you optimistic right now about Stage 2 of meaningful use, in terms of CHIME’s advocacy around timelines?

I think we’re making progress, and there’s some interest in improving the timelines with Stage 2. I think we’re probably at the same point right now, in terms of vendor and organizational readiness; my concern is that I think we’re still at the same point with some not being ready. So we need to continue the press we’re making right now to advocate for greater flexibility for those who need more time. And at this point, we have not yet received any affirmation that any timeline change will occur.