Twenty-three healthcare organizations have sent a letter to House appropriators voicing support for legislative language that would enable the Department of Health and Human Services to provide technical assistance to private sector patient-matching initiatives.

The American Health Information Management Association, American Medical Informatics Association, College of Health Information Management Executives and Health Information and Management Systems Society are among the signatories praising report language included in the fiscal year 2017 Labor-HHS appropriations bill that draws attention to the growing problem in healthcare of patient data mismatches and the need to develop a coordinated national strategy to promote patient safety by matching patients to their electronic health information.

The letter was sent to the offices of Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), Tom Cole (R-Okla.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and other members of the House Committee on Appropriations.

“Accurately matching health information to the correct patient is crucial to reducing potential patient safety risks and improving nationwide health information exchange,” said Lynne Thomas Gordon, CEO of AHIMA, in a written statement. “Allowing public-private collaboration will encourage an open discussion and help foster a solution that is cost-effective and scalable while ensuring that appropriate privacy controls are in place to protect patient privacy.”

Also See: Why curing patient matching issues won’t be easy

The appropriations report language would enable HHS, acting through the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to provide such technical assistance to the private sector in an effort to “help accelerate and scale safe and effective patient identification and matching solutions.”

While Congress has prohibited HHS since 1999 from using federal agency dollars to create a national unique patient identifier, the coalition of healthcare organizations pointed out in their letter to House members that “this limitation does not prohibit HHS from examining the issues around patient matching.”

In their letter, the organizations requested that, as congressional appropriators conference and attempt to reconcile House and Senate legislation, that they include the patient matching report language in any final FY17 appropriations bill.

“We’ve made great progress in digitizing the nation’s healthcare system,” said CHIME president and CEO Russell Branzell. “But if we are going to improve patient safety and care from one provider setting to another, we must be able to ensure with 100 percent accuracy that we properly identify patients and match them to their records and not a different John Doe. The report language is a recognition that patients deserve to know that the information in their electronic health record belongs to them and that it contains all relevant information necessary for informed clinical decision making.”

Earlier this year, CHIME launched a $1 million National Patient ID Challenge aimed at developing a solution that ensures 100 percent accuracy of every patient’s health info to reduce preventable medical errors. The grand prize winner of the competition will be announced in February 2017.

In September, ONC’s new coordinator Vindell Washington, MD, listed supporting efforts to develop unique patient identifiers as one of its top goals. “The work that’s been done on patient identification is broad,” he said at the time. “There’s some great work being done in the private sector around patient identification, and that of CHIME particularly comes to mind.”

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