The American Hospital Association likes much of the health information technology safety plan that the Office of the National Coordinator for HIT released for public comment in December. But the patient identifier issue was glossed over in the plan and must be given more focus, the AHA says in a comment letter to ONC.

“The issue of how to match patients with their medical records needs to be solved as we accelerate information exchange on regional and national levels,” according to the AHA. “The inability to match patients across silos raises safety concerns about mismatches--incorrectly matching patients, or missing a match that should have been made. In addition, without a single, national approach to patient matching, hospitals and health systems are forced to expend significant resources on expensive, proprietary solutions to develop master patient indexes that apply only to that particular hospital or health system’s patients.”

AHA also called for a higher role and more resources for health information exchange in supporting the safety of electronic health records. The association encourages ONC to take a coordinating role in I.T. safety efforts rather than take on roles that duplicate safety work being done at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

In the comment letter, the association applauds such provisions as shared responsibilities among stakeholders in the plan, the encouraging of specific steps vendors can take to ensure safety, and development of a voluntary code of conduct for EHR vendors. “We also note that in complex health care environments, patient safety issues must be considered in a holistic manner. That is, health I.T. is most appropriately considered as one of many factors affecting safety, rather than as a topic on its own.” The AHA comment letter is available here.

Cerner Corp. CEO Neal Patterson in recent testimony before the advisory HIT Policy and Standards Committees also called for better patient identifiers, saying existing ways to identify patients are not adequate.

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