HIMSS Pushes For National Patient Identifier System

Posted on October 2, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Well, here’s some trade organization efforts that aren’t just a lot of smoke and mirrors and self-interest. Apparently, HIMSS is pushing Congress hard to establish a national patient identifier system usable for sharing digital records between facilities.

HIMSS execs estimate that as many as 14 percent of all medical records include wrong, potentially dangerous information due to patient misidentification, a problem which is likely to get worse as more systems transition data from paper to EMRs, according to a story in InformationWeek magazine.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, HIMSS says, when organizations begin to share data under Meaningful Use Stage 2, the problem is likely to get much worse. (And doesn’t a system that makes mismatches and lost data likely more or less completely defeat the purpose of setting up HIEs in the first place?)

In reality, a single patient identifier won’t do the job on its own. In fact, it could contribute to errors of its own, HIMSS notes, so adding biometrics and probabilistic matching records will be necessary to really get things right. But getting moving on the identifier is a start.

To get things standardized, HIMSS would like to see Congress request a report from the Government Accountability Office on the subject to help legislators better understand the issues. (They got so far as getting the House to file a resolution in support of the concept last year, but no further.)  HIMSS has since been working with other associations, think tanks, CMS and ONC to raise awareness of the issue.

To get what it wants, HIMSS will have to convince Congress to change existing law, reports InformationWeek. Since 1999, it’s been illegal to establish such an identifier, as Congress apparently felt the public would view it as a privacy risk.