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How Patient Privacy is Affected by Patient Matching Proposal

Healthcare industry stakeholders recently commented on patient matching legislation, which could potentially affect certain aspects of patient privacy.

By Elizabeth Snell

Earlier this week, numerous healthcare organizations urged members of the House Committee on Appropriations to advance language in a legislative report that would assist in patient matching, which could potentially also affect patient privacy.

Patient privacy could be impacted by patient matching bill

The Fiscal 2017 Labor-HHS Appropriations Bill includes language that would allow ONC and CMS “to provide technical assistance to private-sector led initiatives aimed at developing a coordinated national strategy that will promote patient safety by accurately identifying patients and matching them to their health information,” the stakeholders explained in a letter.

“The absence of a national strategy for accurately identifying patients has resulted in significant costs to hospitals, health systems, physician practices, and long-term post acute care (LTPAC) facilities as well as hindered efforts to facilitate health information exchange,” wrote the organizations. “More importantly, there are patient safety implications when data is matched to the wrong patient and when essential data is lacking from a patient’s record due to identity issues.”

As more healthcare providers continue to implement data sharing options, that patient identification and data matching errors will only become more “problematic and dangerous,” added the stakeholders. Patients and their data must be accurately identified to ensure proper care and to help the industry continue to move toward nationwide interoperability.

“Accurately matching health information to the correct patient is crucial to reducing potential patient safety risks and improving nationwide health information exchange,” American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) CEO Lynne Thomas said in a statement. Allowing public-private collaboration will encourage an open discussion and help foster a solution that is cost-effective and scalable while ensuring that appropriate privacy controls are in place to protect patient privacy.”

CHIME President and CEO Russell Branzell added that significant progress has already been made in digitizing the US healthcare system.

“But if we are going to improve patient safety and care from one provider setting to another, we must be able to ensure with 100 percent accuracy that we properly identify patients and match them to their records and not a different John Doe,” Branzell said in a statement. “The report language is a recognition that patients deserve to know that the information in their electronic health record (EHR) belongs to them and that it contains all relevant information necessary for informed clinical decision making.”

Not having a national strategy that guarantees patients being accurately matched to their own health data could potentially hinder the progress that has already taken place, stated HIMSS North America Executive Vice President Carla Smith. The report language is an important step forward that the House Appropriations Committee should take to ensure that information technology can continue to be used “to drive improvements in care delivery and health outcomes for patients.”

In terms of patient privacy, patient matching could play a significant role. As previously mentioned, the ONC hopes to improve nationwide interoperability and HIE use over the next decade.

Incorporating a standardized patient data set could help healthcare organizations ensure that patient records are linked to each other in the HIE. Physicians could also then access a full medical history before determining the most appropriate treatment for patients. By adopting a uniform patient matching data set, the goal is for decreased medical errors and an improvement in the overall quality of health information.

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