Interoperability Demands a Single National Patient Identifier

Mark Summers
Mark summers

Guest post by Mark Summers, healthcare expert, PA Consulting Group.

At HIMSS this year, multiple speakers laid out visions for a future where parents could consult with a pediatrician via a telemedicine encounter during the middle of the night, take their children to receive immunization shots at a retail clinic, and have all of this information aggregated in their primary care provider’s record so that providing an up to date immunization record at the start of the next school year is as simple as logging into the PCP’s patient portal and printing out the immunization record. In short, multiple speakers presented visions of a truly interoperable future where patient information is exchanged seamlessly between providers, healthcare applications on smartphones, and insurers.

While initiatives such as the CommonWell Health Alliance, Epic’s Care Everywhere, and regional health information exchanges attempt to address the interoperability challenge, these fall short of fully supporting the future vision described above. Today’s solutions do not address smartphone applications and still require manual intervention to ensure that suggested record matches truly belong to the same patient before the records are linked. This process is costly but manageable in an environment where a low volume of patient records are matched between large provider organizations. In a future world where patient data is available from a multitude of websites, smartphone applications and traditional healthcare organizations, it would be cost prohibitive to manually review and verify all potential record matches.

Of course, one solution to this dilemma would be to improve patient matching algorithms and no longer require manual review of records before they are linked. However, for this to be possible, a standard set of data attributes would need to be captured by any application that would use or generate patient data. In a 2014 industry report to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, first name, last name, middle name, suffix, date of birth, current address, historical address, current phone number, historical phone number, and gender were identified as data attributes that should be standardized. Many of the suggestions in this report were incorporated into the Shared Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap that the ONC released in January 2015.

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Technical Challenges Along the Way to HIE Sustainability

Egor Kobelev
Egor Kobelev

Guest post by Egor Kobelev, software delivery manager — healthcare, DataArt.

There are a lot of organizational and technical challenges health information exchanges (HIEs) struggle with while trying to deploy and maintain their platforms. One of the most complex organizational and administrative challenges is to achieve sustainability. While that is often an ultimate goal for HIEs, there is a huge amount of smaller technical challenges to meet, and the way those challenges are responded to often makes a difference for future HIE sustainability.

One of those typical tasks in the industry is a patient look up and mapping. There is a well-known issue when it comes to any sort of health data integration – the lack of a global unique patient identifier. Thousands of existing healthcare providers and payers use their own internal identifiers and there is no easy way to establish a relation between these. Social Security Numbers or similar national identifiers, while useful in some of scenarios, are not suitable for the purposes of healthcare record identification, primarily because of the risks of HIPAA rules violation.

The good part of the story is the amount of talks regarding a National Patient Identifier (NPI). For instance, HIMSS is proactively driving the initiative of introducing NPI, so that eventually patient mapping, which is currently a challenge, will be routine. However, the reality is that we are pretty far away from having NPI legislated and deployed in healthcare organizations nation-wide. At the same time, as many as 8 percent to 14 percent of patient records have errors caused by mismatching patient identifiers, which in turn causes hundreds of millions of dollars in spending to repair and reconcile the records. So, while we are waiting for NPI to come, what would be a solution which is HIPAA compliant, provides high accuracy, throughput, and minimizes manual interventions at the same time?

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