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AHIMA Petition Calls for Development of Voluntary Patient Safety Identifier

March 21, 2016
by Rajiv Leventhal
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A petition from the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) that calls for the development of a voluntary patient safety identifier has officially launched and is now open for signatures.

Since 1999, the federal government has been prohibited from spending public funds on the development of a national patient identifier (NPI). When the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was signed into law in 1996, it originally required that all Americans be issued a unique patient identifier based on the potential benefits they could bring to healthcare. However, after a 1998 federal hearing caused a public outcry due to invasion of privacy claims, Congress prohibited the use of federal dollars to create such a solution.

As such, AHIMA’s petition is part of its MyHealthID advocacy campaign aiming to educate consumers, healthcare professionals, and government officials about the need for a unique patient identifier system. Posted to petitions.whitehouse.gov, the petition needs 100,000 signatures by April 19, 2016 in order to obtain a formal response from the White House.

“Remove the federal budget ban that prohibits the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from participating in efforts to find a patient identification solution. We support a voluntary patient safety identifier,” the petition states. “Accurate patient identification is critical in providing safe care but the sharing of electronic health information is being compromised because of patient identification issues. Let’s start the conversation and find a solution.”

According to AHIMA, the current lack of a unique patient identifier system means that healthcare providers typically rely on a patient’s name and date of birth to identify their medical records in electronic health record (EHR) systems—information that is often not unique to one individual. This means that providers often have a difficult time properly identifying patients, and often incorporate medical information into the wrong health record. A recent survey with AHIMA members revealed that over half of health information management (HIM) professionals routinely work on mitigating possible patient record duplicates at their facility, and of those 72 percent work on mitigating duplicate records weekly.

Earlier this year, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) announced a National Patient ID Challenge, a $1 million crowdsourcing competition to incentivize the private sector to develop a fail-safe patient identifying solution that links patients to their medical records. And in a recent exclusive contribution to Healthcare Informatics, David S. Muntz, former Principal Deputy National Coordinator, Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), outlined his thoughts and recommendations on a national health safety identifier.

AHIMA officials said they are optimistic that consumer perspectives have changed and that it is now time to revisit the national conversation about a unique patient identifier.

AHIMA’s proposed strategy to address the problem includes:

  • A voluntary system in which individual patients could choose if they wish to participate.
  • A system where consumers select their own identifier, much as they do when they select usernames, passwords, or e-mail addresses.
  • A unique identifier for each individual that can be used when provided by the patient to access medical records.

“EHRs have become more prevalent and have reached a stage where the lack of a patient identification strategy has become a daunting challenge that threatens patient privacy and safety. AHIMA is confident the technology exists to solve this problem while ensuring that patient privacy is protected. But it will require public-private collaboration and open discussion,” Lynne Thomas Gordon, CEO of AHIMA, said in a statement in the Journal of AHIMA. “We encourage patients, healthcare professionals, and the public to sign our online petition to ask our leaders to take a look at the critical issue of patient matching. We want to make healthcare safer, more efficient, and more effective for all patients. AHIMA believes a voluntary identifier—created and controlled by patients—will do just that.”

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