NAHIT report advocates unique patient identifier

Current process called unreliable

The National Alliance for Health Information Technology has called for the creation of a voluntary patient-controlled system of unique patient identifiers to ensure privacy and accuracy when exchanging medical information through an electronic health network.

The alliance concluded that the current statistical process for matching patients to their records based on such attributes as name, address, and birth date was too unreliable.

It said a system of unique identifiers would make medical information more complete, accurate, private, and secure, and allow patients to decide who has access to their health records without worrying about incomplete information or identification mix-ups.

The alliance has been focusing on the issue of patient identification for three years, including holding forums, reviewing research, and gathering input from a range of experts, including some of its own members.

Outside of carefully controlled pilots, accuracy for the current process of ensuring patient identification is roughly 90%, based on industry estimates, says Tom Doyle, vice president for HCA and a member of the alliance's technology leadership committee. That margin of error will widen, he says, as it is applied to ever-larger populations.

As part of the consensus-building process, the alliance is soliciting comments on unique patient identifiers on its web site at www.nahit.org.