As the healthcare community is becoming increasingly digitized, it faces some major challenges, including the fact that sometimes a provider may be treating one patient while looking at another’s medical records.
On Tuesday, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) held an event to launch a $1 million global competition -- the National Patient ID Challenge -- that incentivizes innovators to design a private, accurate, and safe way to identify patients.
By solving the problem of not having a patient ID program, patient safety could be positively impacted as national patient identifier could ensure decisions are being made based on the right patient.
CHIME argues this program is critical to the healthcare industry because being able to accurately identify patients could help increase quality of care as well as reduce preventable errors and inefficiency, which could in turn get rid of unnecessary costs attributed to patient misidentification.
According to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, every case of patient misidentification can cost an organization at least $1,200. At the event, National Coordinator for Health IT Karen DeSalvo said the purpose of this challenge is to create an open, connected community of health while the healthcare community is on the road to value-based care.
“Patients are protected by the Health Insurance Portability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), but laws can only protect if they are followed, monitored, and enforced; that has been very difficult to accomplish even with paper records,” CHIME stated. “We think the development of a national patient identifier is actually an opportunity to enhance patient privacy.”
Why the challenge is necessary
U.S. patients receive care in a variety of environments that are often completely disconnected from one another. Since there isn’t a national patient identifier, the best approach to stay organized when looking for answers and solutions to a complex health issue is to use a binder to keep all of the patient’s paperwork.
In the past couple of decades, providers have been converting their paper files into electronic records and there have been several efforts, although they have not been universally implemented, to share information with providers so patients can receive the best care possible.
But it’s not as easy as it may seem. In 2011, hospital district officials found in Harris County Hospital District, where there were 3.4 million patients, there were 249,213 instances in which patients shared the same first and last name. Also, out of 2,488 people named Maria Garcia, 231 had the same birthday.
The current matching error rate has caused widespread concern in the healthcare community. In 2014, ONC reported the best error rate is about 7%. Within a healthcare entity, the rate is closer to 10% to 20%, and it goes up to 60% when entities exchange information.
“Trying to delete duplicate errors and match records from one healthcare provider to another for every patient takes an inordinate amount of time that could be spent focusing on prevention and treatment, not matching records,” CHIME stated. “Because it is still so difficult to get records from other providers, patients often have X-rays and other tests repeated, which in some cases is harmful to the patient, and at the very least wastes time and money.”
From a security and safety point of view, the information currently used for patient identification, including Social Security numbers and addresses, are sent to providers and billing companies by mail and email. If there were to be a national patient identifier, it would easier to recover from this type of theft as an identifier could be cancelled and replaced.
How the challenge works
Although the challenge has not received support from the federal government due to a prohibition that since 1999 has blocked HHS from being able to spend federal funds on a unique patient identifier, it has been widely encouraged by healthcare entities across the nation.
“To ensure effective patient care, interoperable EHRs must be supported by a reliable national patient matching strategy,” American Medical Association President Steven Stack said in a prepared statement. “We look forward to seeing potential creative solutions support by CHIME’s efforts.”
The first phase of the National Patient ID Challenge allows individuals and teams to register online, talk to potential competitors, communicate with CHIME, and begin designing their concept for a national patient identification. In the spring, chosen participants will move on to the Concept Blitz Round, in which innovators can further develop their ideas in preparation for the final round.
This challenge will not allow patients to access all of their data or providers to see at all of their patients’ data in one place, fix duplicate records and it will not connect all of the healthcare entities that have a patient’s information.
The winner of the challenge will have presented the best plan or strategies that can:
Easily and quickly identify patients;
Achieve 100% accuracy in patient identification;
Protect a patient's privacy and identity;
Achieve adoption by the vast majority of patients, providers, insurers, and other stakeholders; and
- Scale to handle all patients in the U.S.