ONC, AHIMA offer update on patient address standards project

The Project US@ initiative aims to provide a consistent way to link patients to records and deal with health equity concerns.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and the American Health Information Management Association are making progress on their joint effort to standardize patient addresses, which they see as a step toward improving health equity.

The agency and AHIMA say the effort, Project US@, can help improve health equity by design, a philosophy that aims to improve data integrity and improve matching patients to all their medical records.

A blog posted this week on the ONC website offers an update on the project.

Patient matching has proven to be a significant challenge as healthcare increasingly digitizes patient information. Although HIPAA called for creation of a national patient identifier in 1996, Congress since 1999 has prevented federal agencies from pursuing an identifier, citing concern about patient privacy risks. In recent months, however, there have been more calls for advancing a national patient identifier

A standard approach

Project US@ aims to establish a standard approach to representing patient addresses across all healthcare information systems, with the intent of improving patient matching through addresses. For patients, correct addresses can help ensure that they receive all provider communications and mailed medications. For providers, accurate patient addresses can help to ensure patients are matched with all the appropriate records to improve the quality of care.

“The beneficial impact of address standardization on accurately matching and linking patient records was a driving force behind the 2021 launch of Project US@,” the blog states. Project US@ will build off of the expertise of the U.S. Postal Service and will employ its existing standards in better linking records to patients. The intent is to improve patient matching across a range of clinical and administrative transactions through improved address data quality, while avoiding achieving patient matching through a national patient identifier, according to the blog.

The Project US@ Technical Specification and Project US@ AHIMA Companion Guide are designed to standardize patient address data, according to information on the program. “Standardizing improves the quality and uniformity of the data used by patient matching algorithms when determining if two or more records represent the same patient,” the update notes.

This year, Project US@ worked with the HHS Equity Technical Assistance Center, whose experts in equity reviewed the Project US@ Technical Specification and the AHIMA Companion Guide to ensure “that all communities benefit from the project,” the blog notes.

ONC and AHIMA are working with other federal agencies and industry partners to improve the collection and management of addresses and demographic data, the blog explains. The partners also are working with experts in geolocation standards to help identify addresses of American Indians and Alaska Natives; active military members and veterans; and patients experiencing homelessness.

“These and other additions will be in Version 2.0 of the Project US@ Technical Specification and the AHIMA Companion Guide, which are expected to be released in 2023,” the blog writers note. More information on Project US@ can be found on ONC’s project website and on AHIMA’s Policy Statement on Health Equity.

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