By Wylecia Wiggs Harris, PHD, CAE, CEO, American Health Information Management Association.
Despite gains in medical technology and the use of electronic health records (EHRs), medical errors related to patient identification continue to pose significant, and in some cases, fatal risks for patients across the U.S.
Medical errors are the third-highest cause of death in the U.S., with 250,000 deaths per year, according to a Johns Hopkins University report.
Mismatched patient records and duplicate patient records are the two biggest forms of error that can lead to misidentification, according to a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts and Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative. Misidentification may result in the wrong surgery or medication, duplicate or unnecessary testing, unintended surgery, inaccurate prescriptions, and higher medical costs. The study also found medical errors occur more frequently within urban health systems where patients are more likely to be seen at more than one medical facility.
The Pew study cited patient misidentification as a nationwide crisis, with matching rates as low as 50 percent in some healthcare facilities.
We must do better.
The collective outcry of our patient population demands we do more. Our patients deserve more. As CEO of the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), and with the full support from our Board of Directors, I will continue to advocate for the adoption of a nationwide patient identification solution that addresses the need to accurately identify patients as they move through our healthcare systems.
We are not there yet, but help is on the way.
In June of last year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment to the Labor-HSS Appropriations bill that removed a ban prohibiting federal dollars from being used to adopt a national patient identifier. In December 2019, when Congress passed the 2020 spending package, language was included to address patient safety, and efforts in furtherance of a nationwide patient identification strategy:
Patient matching: The general provision limiting funds for actions related to promulgation or adoption of a standard providing for the assignment of a unique health identifier does not prohibit efforts to address the growing problems faced by health systems with patient matching. The agreement encourages HHS to continue to provide technical assistance to private-sector-led initiatives to develop a coordinated national strategy that will promote patient safety by accurately identifying patients to their health information.
Further directive within the language requires the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to submit a report to Congress within one year that evaluates the effectiveness of current methodologies and recommended actions to improve the identification of patients.
“We are extremely pleased that language was included that acknowledges the issues related to patient misidentification,” said AHIMA board chair Ginna Evans, MBA, RHIA, CPC, CRC, FAHIMA. “We are prepared to continue advocating for solutions that help us provide greater patient safety within the healthcare ecosystem.”
A recent ECRI report listed patient misidentification among the top 10 threats to patient safety. The Joint Commission has declared accurate patient identification as one of its National Patient Safety Goals. The National Quality Forum lists patient identification errors as a high-priority area for measuring health information technology.
Greater awareness can create a larger coalition to help us advance our solution of a nationwide patient identification solution.
We invite you to join AHIMA’s efforts as we advance our mission to empower people to impact health. Visit our Action Center to see how you can get involved with your elected officials to champion this necessary call for change, and sign up for our newsletter to stay abreast of our latest efforts and initiatives toward better outcomes for patients.
“We will be the leaders in this movement toward change, prioritizing patient matching as a key objective in 2020 and beyond,” Evans said. “We will be proactive rather than reactive with thoughts on this and other emerging topics.”