The Electronic Health Record Association has called for a nationwide patient data matching strategy to ensure the accurate, timely, and efficient matching of patients with their healthcare data across different systems and settings of care.

In an Aug. 12 letter to the Senate Finance Committee, EHRA argued that a nationwide patient data matching strategy remains “one of the most critical unresolved issues in the safe and secure electronic exchange of health information” in this country. According to the organization, which represents 40 EHR companies, the problem is that patients often have medical records in multiple locations including hospitals, physician practices, laboratories, pharmacies and other settings.

“To improve patient safety and data interoperability, a consistent nationwide patient data matching strategy should be a priority,” EHRA told Senate committee members in response to their query regarding the availability and utility of healthcare data. “Patient identification that ensures accurate patient record matching across provider sites is a primary concern when aggregating patient information from multiple organizations. Error rates in existing technologies that manage patient identification are sufficiently high to cause concern about medical errors, redundant testing, and inefficiency.”

In February, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT released the “Patient Identification and Matching Final Report”--conducted by Audacious Inquiry, LLC--which found that methods of matching patient records have not been adopted uniformly across the industry. For instance, the report warned that differences in how names and addresses are formatted in various systems has led to high rates of unmatched records, when unaffiliated organizations are participating in health information exchange.

Other issues and circumstances that lead to unmatched or mismatched records include the quality of data as it is entered into systems at the source of patient registration, and the creation of duplicate records for the same patient within a system, according to the ONC-funded report.

“Identification and broad adoption of interoperability transaction and data standards is necessary to mitigate the costs (direct and indirect) of supporting non-standard approaches to data sharing,” asserts EHRA in its letter to senators. The organization “continues to support the efforts to build an interoperable healthcare system” and believes that the “consistent implementation of existing health IT data definition and transmission standards not only support the Meaningful Use Incentive Program, but is an essential component of national healthcare reform.”

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