Solving identifiers is key to address interoperability roadblocks

Removing the decades-old ban on a national patient identifier addresses a major impediment to information exchange.

In late June, in the course of voting on the Labor-HHS appropriations bill, House members passed an amendment offered by Representative Bill Foster (D-Ill.) and Representative Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) to H.R. 2740, the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2020.

The Foster-Kelly amendment strikes Section 510 of the Labor-HHS Appropriations bill, which currently prohibits HHS from spending any federal dollars to promulgate or adopt a national patient identifier.

Removing this decades-old ban on a national patient identifier—or universal patient identifier (UPI)—addresses a major policy roadblock to interoperability that has cost American taxpayers, the federal government and hospitals, millions of dollars—not to mention jeopardized lives and resulted in mistakes that have caused deaths. By finally facilitating positive patient identification, we deliver on the promise of a person accessing or transporting their records in an increasingly mobile world.

Simply put (and while there is some concern for privacy), we must resolve this issue. In the same way that we would not bank at a financial institution with less than 100 percent trust of identity and accountability, we should not be willing to say that identifying a person’s medical records should approach anything less than perfection. We have the technology and can respect privacy; why, therefore, would we not employ it fully in this matter?

In the coming months, we expect that the Senate will vote on similar language to remove the UPI ban, and we will be working to ensure that every Senator appreciates the significance of this opportunity. Without the ability for clinicians to correctly and quickly connect a patient with their medical record within one institution and across the entire care delivery system, healthcare delivery will continue to be challenged; medical errors will needlessly continue, adding to the burgeoning costs of healthcare in the U.S. Unfortunately, lives will continue to be lost.

These are situations that could have been avoided had patients been accurately identified and matched with their records. This problem is so dire that one of the nation’s leading patient safety organizations named patient identification among the top ten threats to patient safety.

Without question, removing the outdated UPI ban would help bring our healthcare system into the 21st Century, improve patient safety, and save millions of dollars.

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