Industry Group Offers $1M for Patient ID Matching Solution

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By Alex Ruoff

Jan. 19 — A health IT industry group plans to award $1 million for the development of a solution that tackles a long-standing problem with matching patients to their electronic health records.

The College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) Jan. 19 launched its National Patient ID Challenge. The group will award the prize money in February 2017 to the developer of a system that ensures any hospital can accurately match patients with their electronic records.

Mismatching health records can lead to serious medical errors, a researcher told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 19. The issue could derail federal efforts to reduce health spending through the use of health IT.

“All our initiatives—getting patients access to their data, adopting standards and the exchange of information—fall flat on their face without accurate identification,” Andrew Gettinger, acting director for the Office of Clinical Quality and Safety at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, told Bloomberg BNA.

Health systems spend millions of dollars annually on technology and processes to ensure proper patient identification, CHIME said in a release

A recent survey by the American Health Information Management Association found that 72 percent of health-care organizations have staff dedicated to removing duplicate records from their EHR systems. Doctors often inadvertently create duplicate records when they can't find patients' original records.

Patient Matching Rates

While health-care organizations have improved their ability to match patients with their records inside an EHR system in recent years, they continue to spend millions of dollars annually on technologies and processes to try to ensure proper patient identification, Marc Probst, vice president and chief information officer at Intermountain Healthcare, said during an event announcing the launch of the challenge in Washington.

Intermountain Healthcare, a 22-hospital health system in Salt Lake City, correctly matches patients with their records about 97 percent of the time, Probst said. However, when seeking records outside the hospital system, he said, that rate drops below 60 percent.

The majority of hospitals accurately match patient records about 80 percent of the time, Russell Branzell, chief executive officer of CHIME, said.

While this patient-matching rate might seem high, Gettinger said, there are hundreds of millions of people receiving care across the country.

“Even at 99 percent matching, that's still millions of errors,” he said.

Possible Solutions

At the event announcing the prize, federal officials and technology experts were ready to debate the best solution to the industry's patient-matching problem.

Michael McCoy, the ONC's chief health information officer, told Bloomberg BNA he believes biometric scanning and DNA-reading technologies could allow health-care organizations to match patients with their records more accurately. He said these technologies could be paired with existing processes, such as using demographic information to verify a person's identity.

Doug Fridsma, president of the American Medical Informatics Association, told Bloomberg BNA he thinks the solution will come from a combination of new technologies and better processes for identifying patients.

He said health-care organizations should follow the lead of credit reporting business Experian, which matches people to their financial information using a series of questions about themselves and their credit history.

“You could use the information you already have in your records to verify who they are,” Fridsma said.

Unique Identifier

Probst and Branzell separately called for Congress to lift a long-time ban on federal funds to be used to fund a national patient identifier, also known as a universal health ID, which is a unique number assigned to individuals to help health-care organizations differentiate them from others with similar names or dates of birth.

Every appropriations bill since 2002 has contained a provision prohibiting the federal government from funding the establishment of an individual health identifier.

More than 60 percent of CHIME members use some form of a unique patient identifier to match patients with their records, CHIME said in a release. While CHIME supports removal of the ban on a national identifier, Branzell said his organization isn't waiting for the federal government to fix the issue.

Gettinger told Bloomberg BNA that Congress has “made it clear that the ban means hands-off” for the Department of Health and Human Services when it comes to developing a unique health identifier.

However, McCoy said other federal agencies aren't banned from developing one. He said the Post Office and the Social Security Administration could develop a unique health identifier but have no funding or mandate from Congress to do so.

“No one but HHS is banned from doing it, but there's no mandate so why would they,” McCoy told Bloomberg BNA.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Patty Logan at