The ECRI Institute’s Partnership for Health IT Patient Safety has released a toolkit with eight recommendations for the safe use of HIT for facilitating patient identification.

The move by the organization comes because correctly identifying patients remains a daunting challenge for healthcare organizations, with misidentification hurting patient care, treatment and billing. Although electronic health records have been widely adopted by providers, accurately identifying patients and matching their records continues to be a difficult problem to solve.

“Mistakes in patient identification are a significant patient safety issue that may be better managed through the use of health information technology,” states the toolkit’s executive summary. “Using health IT in patient identification facilitates ready and continued access to current and updated information, which plays a vital role in providing safe, quality care to the correct individual at the appropriate time.”

According to Lorraine Possanza, program director at the ECRI Institute, patient misidentification is a “potentially a grave and mortal problem” in which medication and treatment mistakes can be made by clinicians.

“Mistakes that will occur can often be deadly. Tragic things happen when incorrect information about a patient is transferred,” she adds. “It happens throughout healthcare. It occurs many times, in many different forms and settings. It can happen unfortunately anywhere at any time.”

Bloomberg file photo

Last year, the ECRI Institute ranked the top 10 patient safety concerns for healthcare organizations, with patient identification errors ranking second overall.

Also See: ECRI ranks health IT among the industry’s top safety concerns

In developing the toolkit, “We looked at evidence in the literature to approach this topic,” says Possanza. “And, we also utilized the experiences and broad depth of knowledge of those who participated in the Partnership’s workgroup.”

The evidence-based, safe practice recommendations developed by the workgroup—forming the mnemonic IDENTIFY—are:

  • Include: Electronic fields containing patient identification data should consistently use standard identifier conventions
  • Detect: Use a confirmation process to help match the patient and the documentation
  • Evaluate: Use standard attributes and attribute formats in all transactions to improve matching
  • Normalize: Use a standard display of patient attributes across the various systems
  • Tailor: Include distinguishing information enhancing identification on screens printouts, and those areas that require interventions
  • Innovate: Integrate new technologies to facilitate and enhance identification
  • Follow-up: Implement monitoring systems to readily detect identification errors
  • Yield: Include high-specificity active alerts and notifications to facilitate proper identification

In 2013, the ECRI Institute convened the Partnership for Health IT Patient Safety, a multi-stakeholder collaborative, which is focused on improving the safety of HIT. The Partnership’s recommendations on patient identification represent the group’s second major effort. The body’s first set of recommendations addressed safe practices for EHR copy-paste for physicians who use copied text and paste it into their clinical notes.

Late last year, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation awarded a three-year, $3 million grant to ECRI Institute supporting the growth and expansion of the Partnership’s work. Going forward, Possanza says two new Partnership workgroups have been formed for 2017.

The first workgroup, which started in February, is focusing on developing, integrating and maintaining a health IT safety program, according to Possanza. The second workgroup, which is slated to begin in May, will attempt to close the loop on diagnostic testing and referrals by reducing diagnostic error using technology, she notes.

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