The College of Healthcare Information Management Executives on Tuesday launched a $1 million National Patient ID Challenge to develop solutions to ensure 100 percent accuracy of every patient’s identity to reduce preventable medical errors.

“If it was you or your loved one, what percentage of the time would you like them to be correctly identified for care purposes?” asked CHIME President and CEO Russell Branzell at the Jan. 19 launch event. “Is 100 percent an audacious goal? You bet. But, I’ll tell you what. For my family, friends and loved ones, 100 percent is the only thing we should be shooting for.”

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Tackling this critical underpinning of patient identification [is] necessary to make certain that the right data is wrapped around the right person.

Correctly identifying patients and accurately matching their records as they are shared across healthcare organizations continues to be a daunting problem for the industry, despite the widespread adoption of electronic health records, Branzell says. In fact, he argues that matching records to the correct patient has become increasingly complicated as organizations share records electronically using different systems, with patient mismatching occurring as much as 20 percent of the time.

Tejal Gandhi, MD, president and CEO of the National Patient Safety Foundation, made the point that while health IT and EHRs have the potential to be safe, providers have seen a range of unintended consequences that actually introduce new areas of risk, including patient misidentification.

“Patients receive care in many different healthcare environments and these environments are often unconnected,” said Gandhi, whose foundation supports CHIME’s National Patient ID Challenge. “Our system is currently too fragmented to ensure that all of the information gathered in each setting gets reported, recorded, and addressed where it should.”

Marc Probst, chief information officer of Intermountain Healthcare, said that within a health system the national average of correctly matching patient records is about 90 percent. However, when different health systems try to share that information, Probst claimed that “the numbers go down dramatically.”

Also See: Issues with Duplicate Patient Records Hound HIM Professionals

What is urgently needed is a universal way of accurately identifying a patient, Branzell asserted, regardless of where they seek care. Unfortunately, current law prevents the Department of Health and Human Services from spending funds on a national patient identifier that could solve the problem, putting the onus on the private sector. As a result, CHIME has teamed with crowdsourcing platform HeroX to run the year-long competition that is open to innovators from around the world to develop a solution that is private, accurate and safe.

“Now is the time for a national patient ID,” said Probst. “We all know there’s politics around this issue. That’s why I’m so proud of CHIME for taking leadership here from a non-governmental, private sector perspective to try and figure out a positive way of identifying our patients.”

Probst revealed that Intermountain Healthcare spends between $4 million and $5 million annually on technologies and processes to try to ensure proper patient identification. However, a 2014 report from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT found that the current methods to match patient records cannot achieve a zero percent error rate in which every possible match is correctly made and erroneous matches are avoided. “Indeed, no single solution can accomplish this feat given the underlying contributors to the challenge of accurate record linking,” concluded ONC.

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Speaking at Tuesday’s launch of the CHIME challenge, Karen DeSalvo, MD, National Coordinator for Health IT, said that while ONC has been “tackling this critical underpinning of patient identification [is] necessary to make certain that the right data is wrapped around the right person,” the agency recognizes that “there are opportunities for the private sector to advance in this space” and “think outside of the box.” DeSalvo commended CHIME for “stepping up” and showing leadership in trying to address the problem.

Innovators can now go to the National Patient ID Challenge website and submit proposals for the competition. The grand prize winner will be announced in February 2017.

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