AHIMA Seeks Public Support for National Patient Safety ID

John Commins, March 22, 2016

Advocates for a voluntary patient safety identifier envision a process that would allow patients to create a way for medical systems to recognize them quickly and accurately, in much the same way as financial sector businesses.

A leading trade group for the nation’s health information technology sector is asking patients to endorse the creation of a national voluntary patient safety identifier.

The American Health Information Management Association said Monday that it has launched a petition and wants to send the Obama administration at least 100,000 signatures from patients who support the idea.

The petition, which AHIMA hopes to send to the White House by April 19, asks for the removal of a ban that prohibits the Department of Health and Human Services from participating in efforts to create a patient safety identification system.

“That was way back in the original draft language of HIPAA. It had language specific to unique patient identifiers,” says AHIMA’s Pamela Lane, vice president, policy & government relations. “Back in the day there was a lot of concern about big government spying on people. So, when the final language came out, they’d taken the references to patient identifiers out.”

“To keep it from getting added back in, there was language put into the appropriations bill in 1999 that said that HHS could not use any of their resources on patient identifiers. They can talk about the problem, but they can’t talk about the solutions,” Lane says.

2,488 Maria Garcias

Lane says the need for patient safety identifiers continues to grow as 80% of doctors and 97% of hospitals use electronic health records. She cited a study conducted by the Harris County Hospital District in Houston, TX, which found that, among 3.5 million patients, there were nearly 70,000 instances where two or more patients shared the same last name, first name, and date of birth. Among these were 2,488 different patients named Maria Garcia and 231 of those shared the same birth date.

A specific patient identifier would ensure that each patient’s health information is kept together and is complete and remains under the patient’s control. AHIMA and other supporters of the voluntary patient safety identifier envision a process that would allow patients to create a way for medical systems to recognize them quickly and accurately, in much the same way as financial sector businesses.

“We don’t know what it will look like. We are not proposing any particular technical solution, but we don’t believe the technology is the problem anymore,” Lane says. “It could be something as simple as an email address specifically for healthcare, or could be like a banking [or] ATM number. The technology exists for there to be lots of things to talk about. There are brilliant minds that have been working now for almost 20 years since HIPAA was enacted on technical solutions. We just want to be able to have private/public conversations.”

Lane says AHIMA members often see firsthand the problems associated with mismatching patient IDs.

“We’ve waded into it because we are the profession in healthcare that has to clean up a lot of the problems,” she says. “Let’s say there are two patients with the same name. Many, many times the people who match those records and validate those identities are EMR professionals. We are the ones who have the closest real-world knowledge of the problem.”

The petition marks the first direct appeal to patients and consumers by AHIMA, which is not well known outside of healthcare circles. “We have not traditionally been consumer-facing as an association. This is a brand new avenue of advocacy for us,” Lane says.

“This is a great opportunity to say ‘I am the one who on the back end fixes the problem and I am going to help you find ways to fix it on the front end.’ We also have worked with other associations and groups, as they reach out to their members, who reach out to patients. It’s a heavy lift, but we don’t have to do it all ourselves.”

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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