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Groups Seek to Add Patient Identifier Language to Labor Bill

More than a score of industry groups have written Congress to add unique patient identifier language to the final 2017 appropriations bill.

- Twenty-three organizations have signed a letter sent to leaders of the House Committee on Appropriations looking to include language mention of a unique patient identifier "in any final FY17 appropriations bill."

Patient matching for health data exchange

In the letter, the subscribing organizations commended the committee for specifically addressing patient matching in an early form of the bill while emphasizing the importance of establishing a national strategy for identifying patients correctly.

"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," the letter states. "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."

According to the industry groups, the increase of health data exchange only serves to exacerbate current deficiencies in patient identification and matching.

"As data exchange increases among providers, patient identification and data matching errors will become exponentially more problematic and dangerous," the letter continues. "Accurately identifying patients and matching them to their data is essential to coordination of care and is a requirement for health system transformation and the continuation of our substantial progress towards nationwide interoperability."

The 23 organizations have called for the following language to be included in any final appropriations bill for 2017:

Unique Patient Identifier

The Committee is aware that one of the most significant challenges inhibiting the safe and secure electronic exchange of health information is the lack of a consistent patient data matching strategy. With the passage of the HITECH Act, a clear mandate was placed on the Nation’s healthcare community to adopt electronic health records and health exchange capability. Although the Committee continues to carry a prohibition against HHS using funds to promulgate or adopt any final standard providing for the assignment of a unique health identifier for an individual until such activity is authorized, the Committee notes that this limitation does not prohibit HHS from examining the issues around patient matching. Accordingly, the Committee encourages the Secretary, acting through the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and CMS, to provide technical assistance to private-sector led initiatives to develop a coordinated national strategy that will promote patient safety by accurately identifying patients to their health information.

Subscribers to the letter include the College for Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), an organization that has both lobbied for national patient identifier as well as launched its own $1-million challenge to develop a solution for accurately identifying patients.

The group pointed to the Labor-HHS bill as a cause for optimism in comments earlier this year.

"Every year since 1999, Congress has passed appropriations bills prohibiting the Department of Health and Human Services from using funds to promulgate or adopt a rule that would establish a unique health identifier," CHIME's Vice President of Congressional Affairs Leslie Krigstein said in a July statement.

"While we continue to believe that the ban should be lifted," she continued, "we applaud the House Appropriations Committee for clarifying the limitations this restriction places on HHS and for encouraging the department to work with the private sector on developing a national patient identification and patient matching strategy."

The bill's language does not greenlight funding for a national patient matching strategy but does allow the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to support private-sector initiatives with that goal.

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