The following is a guest post from Mark LaRow, CEO of patient matching company Verato.
For more than two decades, HIPAA has protected a patient’s rights to his or her medical records. But a patient’s access to those records often involves out-of-pocket costs, in-person trips to their provider offices, and even fax machines. As a result, very few patients have full access to their own medical information. Well, the HIPAA-backed rights just got a shot in the arm with the recently announced ONC and CMS proposed regulations, both of which build on the core tenants of HIPAA to deliver patients with electronic access to their health records.
This expansion of patient access laws is laudable, but is the industry ready for what this will mean? Right now, the resounding answer is “no.”
Why? Because providers have significant issues linking medical records to individual patients — in other words, they have a patient matching problem. As health systems spent billions transitioning from paper to EHR software, this patient matching problem grew behind the scenes, resulting today in anywhere from 10% to 30% of all patients’ records being incomplete due to their records not being accurately linked to them.
Interoperability and records sharing will compound the patient matching problem by increasing the volume of data that must be matched to the correct patients. And to top it off, new sources of data are emerging that will need to be integrated into the patient profile, including the patient-generated health information submitted through websites and wearables. Correlating official medical records with all this additional information will become almost impossibly complex.
Even worse, for the first time ever, every provider’s patient matching problems will be exposed to their patients.
As patients gain access to their own electronic health records, patients may find that their health record is missing information, or worse, that it may have included incorrect information from another patient. Imagine the customer relations — and legal — headaches that will occur when recent clinical notes seem to be missing, a prior vaccination is unaccounted for or an allergy isn’t present on the record.
Healthcare providers need to get a handle on this issue prior to the inevitable explosion of access requests from patients. And remember: patients won’t be blaming the EHR software for the problem — the blame will sit squarely on the provider organization.
To head this off, providers should get an understanding of their current patient matching problems and take immediate steps to resolve known duplicate medical records, as well as look at ways to ensure duplicate records are never created again. Whether you look to referential matching, biometrics or another method to improve your patient matching, now is the time to begin evaluating your options — before electronic patient access to records becomes the norm rather than the exception.