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Data Standards, Unique Identifiers Will Reduce Patient Matching Errors

Refined data standards, increased patient engagement, unique patient identifiers, and the use of third-party data could reduce patient matching errors.

Data standards and unique identifiers will reduce patient matching errors

Source: Thinkstock

By Jessica Kent

- The healthcare industry should prioritize the development of data standards, unique patient identifiers, and engagement from patients if it wishes to reduce the number of patient matching errors that occur on a regular basis, according to a recent report from the Pew Charitable Trusts.  

Failing to match patients to the correct record can lead to significant medical errors, increased costs, and fragmented care, Pew said.

Fundamental data integrity issues, such as unstandardized inputs and unstructured data, can create mismatches between patients that can affect clinical care and the patient experience.

“Patient matching relies on the use of demographic data and can be affected by the specific information used and how it’s formatted,” Pew wrote.

“For example, one system may document email addresses, which may be omitted from another system. Or some organizations may use a single field for a person’s full name, while another may have three discrete fields for first, middle, and last names.”

READ MORE: Data Standards, API Development Will Support Health Data Exchange

Standardizing common data elements could reduce variability between organizations, Pew believes.

In conjunction with the Regenstrief Institute, researchers at Pew found that standardizing the formats of demographic data, particularly address and last name, can improve patient matching rates. Additionally, when interviewing providers, Pew found that many have embraced increased standardization, and some have restricted data sharing with partners who do not meet minimum quality data criteria.

Technology vendors will play a key role in continuing to educate providers about the benefits of data standardization while equipping them with the tools they need to create high-quality data from the start, Pew noted.

“Given that wide-scale adoption of the same standards and data elements would be needed to realize the utility of standardization, EHR vendors should prioritize the deployment of standardized fields to their customers,” the organization said.

Patients must also take a more active role in identifying errors, the report stressed.  Providers may wish to consider offering a mobile application that allows individuals to validate their information through text messaging or other means, the report suggested.  

READ MORE: Patient Matching, Health IT Standards Critical for Interoperability

A smartphone application could allow patients to transmit pieces of key data from their devices to EHRs, including core demographic information, unique identifiers, and a verified phone number.

“This information, in aggregate, would improve matching by ensuring that health care organizations can match records based on accurate, up-to-date data, including identifiers unique to an individual,” Pew said.

“Both patients and health care organizations would adopt these applications because they would help streamline the registration process.”

While both patients and providers cited privacy and security concerns when interviewed about the use of a smartphone app, Pew contended that these tools may provide a solution to healthcare’s patient matching issues. The prevalence of smartphones, coupled with healthcare’s growing emphasis on patient engagement, make this a viable approach.

Pew also studied the use of unique patient identifiers, such as biometrics, to improve patient matching.

READ MORE: Data Governance Can Help Improve Patient Matching Issues

The use of biometric data, such as fingerprints, is an emerging trend that holds potential in the healthcare environment.  Hundreds of hospitals across the US have implemented some type of biometric to identify patients, Pew said, with one hospital finding that 90 percent of patients agreed to use a biometric system for identification.

Although unique identifiers and biometrics hold a lot promise for patient matching, the solutions come with significant concerns, including a lack of agreed-upon standards.

However, patients and providers generally welcomed the use of unique identifiers, and Pew wrote that these data elements could be part of a long-term solution to patient matching problems.

“Healthcare industry leaders—including technology developers and health care providers—should evaluate the standards needed for the use of biometrics and other authenticators and agree to a nationwide infrastructure to support this effort,” the organization stated.

Finally, Pew considered the viability of leveraging additional sources of data to enhance patient matching. This approach, known as referential matching, relies on demographic data gathered from multiple sources outside of healthcare.

Referential matching is a promising approach, but many healthcare organizations may lack the necessary infrastructure to implement this solution.

Pew recommended that stakeholders deploy a strategy that uses referential matching within and across health information networks to create a gradual path toward better match rates in the short term, while also supporting the adoption of new technologies.

Pew acknowledged that while patient matching problems are not easy to fix, stakeholders can collaborate and work to implement one of the four solutions discussed in the report.  

“Improvements to matching are essential to realizing the potential of an interoperable healthcare system where patients and clinicians have data when and where they need them,” Pew concluded.

“Opportunities exist to improve patient matching and create more complete medical records, so that patients’ diagnoses, medications, and other key information are accessible regardless of where they were documented.”


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