The College of Healthcare Information Management Executives is calling for a renewed push to establish a unique national patient identifier and is unleashing its 1,600 chief information officers and clinical medical informatics officers to press Congress to remove the current prohibition on such an identifier.

In recent months, U.S. House and Senate committees—particularly the House Energy and Commerce and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committees—have  held a series of hearings on issues surrounding health information technology. These include electronic health records interoperability, Medicare reimbursement for telemedicine services, improving health IT safety, and regulation of certain software as medical devices, as policymakers seek ways for health IT to better support population health management and cost control.

Time and time again, the lack of a sufficient national patient identifier has been cited by testifying stakeholders as a major impediment to interoperability and patient safety. And, with the House Energy and Commerce Committee sending the 21st Century Cures Act to the House floor for consideration, now is the time for CHIME and other industry associations to make a concerted effort on the identifier issue, says Leslie Krigstein, interim vice president of public policy at CHIME.

Also See: House Committee Unanimously Approves 21st Century Cures Bill

In its letter to Senate HELP committee leaders, CHIME calls the lack of a consistent patient identity matching strategy “the most significant challenge inhibiting the safe and secure electronic exchange of health information. As our healthcare system begins to realize the innately transformational capabilities of health IT, moving toward nationwide health information exchange, this essential core functionality—consistency in patient identity matching—must be addressed.”

A consistent strategy for an identifier, however, does not mean a single technology or solution, CHIME notes, but an approach facilitating information exchange while protecting patient safety and privacy. “Robust information exchange and nationwide interoperability can flourish only once we can confidently identify a patient across providers, locations and vendors.”

In its letter, CHIME also tells lawmakers that a standard patient identifier would support the promise of a patient longitudinal care record. “Unfortunately, the development of longitudinal health records—reflecting the patient’s experience across episodes of care, payers, geographic locations and stages of life—remains only an ideal at this time.”

CHIME is having informal conversations with other industry associations to chart a uniform approach to ensure all groups are sending the same message, Krigstein says. CHIME members also are informing members of Congress on the need for a Government Accountability Office study to outline interoperability issues and patient identifier options to educate lawmakers.

Text of the CHIME letter is here.

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