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AHIMA and CHIME Urge Senate to Support Lifting Ban on Federal Funding for Unique Patient Identifier

HIM leaders recently told members of Congress that removal of a nearly two-decade ban on the use of federal funds to adopt a nationwide unique patient identifier would allow collaboration between Health and Human Services (HHS) and the private sector to identify solutions for reducing medical errors and protecting patient privacy. 

AHIMA and the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) hosted the Congressional briefing to encourage Senate support for the U.S. House of Representatives’ recent repeal of the ban as part of the FY2020 Labor, HHS and Education and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) Appropriations bills. 

During the briefing, members of AMIA and the American College of Surgeons joined AHIMA and CHIME in recounting existing patient identification challenges and the patient safety implications when data are matched to the wrong patient and/or when essential data are lacking from a patient’s record due to identity issues. 

“Critical to patient safety and care coordination is ensuring patients are accurately identified and matched to their data,” says AHIMA CEO Wylecia Wiggs Harris, PhD, CAE. “The time has come to remove this archaic ban and empower HHS to explore a full range of patient matching solutions hand in hand with the private sector focused on increasing patient safety and moving us closer to achieving nationwide interoperability.” 

“Now more than ever we need a nationwide unique patient identifier to ensure that patients are correctly identified in our increasingly digital health care ecosystem,” says CHIME President and CEO Russell Branzell. “This is a top priority for our members. We applaud the House for taking a leadership role on this issue by removing the ban and we strongly encourage the Senate to do the same.” 

HIPAA originally required the creation of a unique health identifier in 1998. However, Congress included language as part of the annual appropriations process that prohibited HHS from using federal funds intended for the creation of a unique patient identifier out of privacy concerns. 

Not having a unique patient identifier system means that health care providers typically rely on a patient’s name and date of birth to identify their medical records in EHR systems—information that is often not unique to one individual. This means that providers often have a difficult time properly identifying patients and often incorporate medical information into the wrong health record. 

“Those of us who work in provider organizations have seen the serious consequences of this ban on patients and their families,” says Marc Probst, MBA, CHCIO, CIO and vice president at Intermountain Healthcare and a member of the CHIME Policy Steering Committee. “Misidentifications threaten patient safety and drive unnecessary costs to health systems in an era when the industry and Congress are trying to lower health care costs. Congress has an opportunity to fix this, but only if the Senate also removes the ban on a unique patient identifier.”    

Speakers at the briefing included Probst; Shaun Grannis, MD, MS, FAAFP, director of the Center for Biomedical Informatics at Regenstrief Institute; Frank G. Opelka, MD, FACS, medical director of quality and health policy for the American College of Surgeons; and Katherine Lusk, MHSM, RHIA, FAHIMA, chief health information management and exchange officer at Children’s Health System of Texas, as well as moderators Leslie Krigstein, vice president of congressional affairs at CHIME, and Lauren Riplinger, vice president of policy and government affairs at AHIMA.

— Source: AHIMA and the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives