Legislation on its way to the U.S. Senate offers a possible path toward solving the patient ID problem.
Last week's passage of the 21st Century Cures Act in the U.S. House of Representatives may result in reduced regulatory burdens for providers struggling to comply with meaningful use and other health IT-related requirements.
The bipartisan legislation is expected to pass the Senate this week and head to President Obama's desk for a promised approval.
It directs the Department of Health and Human Services to create a report outlining how the department could reduce regulatory and administrative burdens, says Leslie Krigstein, vice president of congressional affairs at College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME).
"It wasn't a direct relaxation [of regulations], but hopefully their findings could result in some harmonization across all of the different reporting programs, even just within CMS," Krigstein says. "That would be exceptionally helpful."
Effects on Patients
Then there is the patient ID aspect.
According to Krigstein, the 21st Century Cures legislation gives the U.S. Government Accountability Office two years to report back to Congress on a number of tech-related topics: the impact of IT on patient safety, on health IT security, and, of particular note, improvements in matching patient records, reducing errors, and duplicating records.
Each year since HIPAA passed in 1996, Congress has inserted language into the HHS appropriations bill (or its continuing resolution equivalent) that prohibits HHS from spending money on developing a unique health identifier for individuals. CHIME and other organizations have lobbied, with little effect until now, for Congress to relax this prohibition, which arose out of privacy concerns.
In preparing the report required by the 21st Century Cures bill, HHS's Office of the National Coordinator could define additional data elements that move toward a universal patient identifier, Krigstein says.
Krigstein cautions that the way previous Congressional language reads, such an identifier might not be created until a separate act of Congress authorizes it, essentially lifting the 20-year-old ban.
Scott Mace is the former senior technology editor for HealthLeaders Media. He is now the senior editor, custom content at H3.Group.