Monday, 04 April 2016 05:50

AHIMA Petition Calls for Voluntary Patient Safety Identifiers

Written by Pam Lane, MS, RHIA, CPHIMS, HIMSS

They’re your medical records – but sometimes, your name or some of your personal information is so similar to those of someone else’s that doctor’s offices or hospitals can have a hard time identifying you correctly. If you are mixed up with another patient in a medical record or all your medical records are not kept together, your doctor may not be able to share accurate information with other healthcare providers. This can be dangerous and costly, especially when incorrect information leads to missed diagnoses, inappropriate treatments, or unnecessary tests.

That’s why the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) has launched a petition calling for a voluntary patient safety identifier.

The petition, available on, needs 100,000 signatures by April 19 to ensure a response from the Obama administration.

Although electronic health records (EHRs) are common and make exchanging information safer and more efficient, they can’t always live up to their promise without a way to accurately identify the correct patient every time.

The challenge of ensuring accurate patient identification was illustrated by a recent study conducted by the Harris County Hospital District in Houston; the study found that, among 3.5 million patients, there were nearly 70,000 instances in which two or more patients shared the same last name, first name, and date of birth. Among these were 2,488 different patients named Maria Garcia, with 231 of them sharing the same birth date.

AHIMA believes that a possible solution is a voluntary patient safety identifier, which could allow patients to create a way for medical systems to recognize them quickly and accurately. An identifier will help ensure that each patient’s health information is kept together and is complete, all the while remaining under the patient’s control.

The petition aims to encourage leaders in the federal government to engage experts in the private sector who have experience in accurately identifying people, for example leaders in the banking and other financial businesses, along with security experts. With 80 percent of doctors and 97 percent of hospitals currently using an electronic health record, having a way to accurately and safely exchange information can make healthcare more safe and effective.

According to a report from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), patient matching can be as high as 90 percent when used internally by organizations with sophisticated matching strategies. But accuracy plummets to 50-60 percent when data is exchanged with other organizations. 

That’s why health information management (HIM) professionals and others are supporting this petition. Choosing to have an identifier would be up to each patient.

Specifically, AHIMA’s petition asks for the removal of the federal legislative ban that currently prohibits the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from participating in efforts to find a patient identification solution. AHIMA is also taking this issue to Congress during its Hill Day this month.

A voluntary patient safety identifier – created and controlled by patients – will be a complete and positive game-changer in healthcare in terms of patient safety, quality of care, and financial consequences. Patients, healthcare professionals, and the public all should get behind this effort to make healthcare safer, more efficient, and more effective for everyone.

AHIMA’s proposed strategy to address the problem includes:

  • A voluntary system in which individual patients could choose if they wish to participate.
  • A system in which consumers select their own identifiers, much as they do when they select usernames, passwords, or email addresses. 
  • A unique identifier for each individual that can be used, when provided by the patient, to access medical records.

AHIMA is confident that the technology exists to solve this problem while ensuring that patient privacy is protected. But it will require public-private collaboration and open discussion.

In a recent Twitter chat, we asked participants questions about best practices for managing health records. Here are some of my favorite responses:

  • “Patients remember 2 always be proactive in your #healthcare Always speak up & ask questions. Be an empowered healthcare consumer #MyHealthID”
  • “Be confident that your health information belongs to you. Support voluntary patient identifier”
  • “Bad information leads to medical errors. Don't be a statistic! Make sure your medical information is your own”

I’d love for VBPmonitor readers to help AHIMA take action. Here are a few ways you can help to share the petition and promote patient safety:

  • Share this article with your fellow healthcare, HIT, or HIM industry friends.
  • Send a personalized email to send to coworkers, friends, and family with a link to the petition explaining why this is an important issue for everyone.
  • Post your support on social media and ask others to sign. Don’t forget to include the hashtag (#MyHealthID) and petition link.
  • Chat about it at the next cocktail party, luncheon, or conversation in which you find yourself.
  • Host a petition signing party!

About the Author

Pamela L. Lane, MS, RHIA, CPHIMS, HIMSS, is the American Health Information Management Association’s (AHIMA) vice president, government relations. With more than two decades of senior leadership experience in HIM, revenue cycle management, clinical applications and hospital operations, Lane served formerly as the deputy secretary, health information at the California Health and Human Services Agency (CHHS).

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Last modified on Tuesday, 05 April 2016 05:55