At the March HIMSS conference, Allscripts, Cerner, and others announced the CommonWell Alliance, a consortium of EHR vendors devoted to standardizing patient ID as part of improving healthcare interoperability. All the providers and vendors interviewed for this story see CommonWell's efforts as accelerating their own efforts to eliminate patient ID discrepancies across providers and EHR vendors, and thus accelerate the movement to accountable care.
"We certainly do a lot of work on all of those products, so it's probably not such a bad strategy," says Beth Just, MBA, president and CEO of Just Associates Inc., a Centennial, Colo., consulting firm that has helped hundreds of healthcare providers implement master patient indexes for nearly 20 years.
For now, the industry lacks a universal solution. For instance, Geisinger tested adding a patient photo to be kept on file some years ago, but patient resistance was so great, the company chose to abandon the experiment, Richards says.
Some healthcare systems, such as Cook County H&HS, are considering employing enterprise data warehouse technology to help eliminate duplicate patient IDs. Emerging health information exchanges, many of which are employing EMPI technology, also provide a possible solution.
For instance, Resolute Health's Bell was encouraged recently when Allscripts acquired dbMotion, which Resolute was already planning on using as its health information exchange. dbMotion, coupled with LifeMedID, could provide a more comprehensive patient ID solution, as Resolute moves to stand up its private health information exchange and integrate with state HIEs in Texas and share patient information with competing hospitals.
Providers are just beginning to explore biometric methods of identification. "One system that has been presented by Cerner is a palm vein scan, where the patient actually can go and do a self-registration," Hota says. Cook County H&HS hopes to begin pilot testing of such a system soon, he says.
Just notes that there is, as yet, no silver bullet, no one-size-fits-all solution for the patient ID matching problem.
"If you can't uniquely identify your patients within whatever data you're analyzing, you're going to misread and therefore make executive decisions that are not spot-on," Just says. "And you make some big strategic mistakes because of that."
This article appears in the June issue of HealthLeaders magazine.