Solving the unsolvable: 3 reasons hospitals should adopt a unique health safety identifier

Continuously advancing information technology enables providers to share a patient's medical data across the continuum of care. However, digitally sharing sensitive health information raises the risk of security breaches, as a patient's medical record is a sought-after commodity on the black market, often far exceeding the value of credit card information.

During a webinar from Becker's Virtual Innovation Summit (sponsored by Becker’s Healthcare, Lenovo Health and Intel) on June 7, a panel of industry leaders delved into the benefits of a unique health safety identifier and how effectively employing it can help solve many challenges associated with sharing patient information.

Working in tandem with an EHR, a unique health safety identifier assigns each patient a unique set of characters so that hospital staff can verify whether a patient is exactly who they say they are. Unlike other identification mechanisms, a unique health safety identifier is a federated ID system that can be shared within or across enterprises and possess the potential to overcome the patient ID issues healthcare organizations often face when sharing sensitive patient health information.

"There is a lot of momentum in the industry on ways to improve patient ID. Most of it includes matching, such as looking at details to see if they line up," said Catherine Shulten, vice president of product management for Roseville, Calif.-based LifeMed ID. "This is a false start. Patient ID is about identity proofing — knowing someone is who they claim to be."

Hospitals can benefit from using a unique health safety identifier for the following three reasons.

1. Having a unique health safety identifier will help hospitals keep pace with the shift to value-based care. Healthcare's transition to value is changing the field of medicine for all facets of the industry. The days of simply writing down some information around a patient's treatment plan have been replaced by technological solutions that gather copious amounts of data to helps clinicians create individualized plans for patients. In the value-based healthcare era, providers are expected to report on a wealth of information and deliver excellent patient outcomes based on the large amounts of data available at their fingertips.

"We are entering a brave new world here where we have to be accountable for the documentation around patients," said Ms. Shulten. "It is no longer appropriate to have a single slice of a patient's care for an episode. Value-based care requires a 360 degree perception of the episode."

To provide this full picture, hospitals have to maneuver around obstacles impeding their ability to build complete – and subsequently share – patient information. One key challenge they often face is duplicate health records, which threaten value-based care's overall aim of lowering costs and improving patient satisfaction. Reducing or ultimately eliminating such issues could help hospitals succeed moving forward.

Tom Foley, Lenovo Health's director of global health solution strategy, said duplicate records most often happen when transitioning patients from one setting of care to the next, as those settings may use different EHR systems. An EHR may not recognize a set of information and staff members then have to manually enter it, which is where costly mistakes often occur.

"When we talk to executives about patient ID, they say they don't have a patient ID problem," Mr. Foley added. "When we ask them if they have a duplicate record or medical theft problem, they say they have those problems. [During a focus group,] a CIO of a large institution once said he didn't know these issues were solvable. They are solvable in the context of patient ID."

2. Hospitals can improve patient safety through a unique health safety identifier. Frank DiSanzo, former chief information and strategy officer for New Brunswick, N.J.-based St. Peter's Healthcare System, said unique health safety identifiers reduce the rate of errors in medical records and overhead expenses through their patient matching capabilities. As hospitals and health systems refine their strategies to improve patient safety, ensuring accuracy of medical records has emerged as an important component, as incomplete or error-ridden records can lead to unnecessary testing, missed diagnoses and a slew of other issues.

"The best people in the industry are only getting it [patient ID] right 90 percent of the time," said Mr. DiSanzo. "The benefits of these are huge from an administrative and patient care perspective."

Patient safety was the primary factor driving Truckee, Calif.-based Tahoe Forest Medical District to implement its LifeMed ID unique health safety identifier.

"If you put duplicate records in the context of patient safety, there are a number of things that can happen. You can give [a patient] an extra CT, extra radiation or the wrong blood type, which is very dangerous," said Jake Dorst, chief information and innovation officer of the nonprofit healthcare facility.

Tahoe Forest Medical District also found the ID was useful in setting the facility apart from its competitors and branded the ID to its Blue Life program, which includes a patient access card that links patients directly to the EHR.

"We used it as a brand awareness campaign, touting that we are getting it [patient ID] right," Mr. Dorst added. "There are many things you can do with the program if you leverage it right and that is something we have done and are quite proud of."

3. The unique health safety identifier is more effective than current methods. Mr. Foley explained an identifier is not an alphanumeric value someone can view, but is a deterministic matching algorithm that allows hospitals to know with 100 percent confidence they have the right person. While the enterprise master patient index, a database hospitals use to maintain accurate patient demographic and medical data, can be useful, this should not be the sole methodology for patient ID.

"I am not going to toss the enterprise master patient index out with the bathwater, but it is not the be-all-end-all," added Ms. Shulten. "It needs to supplement the design we are discussing today."

Moving forward, innovations like the unique health safety identifier will help providers offer excellent patient care as they will be able to share and understand data effectively. Failure to correctly ID patients is costly and, in severe cases, can be a fatal problem. Hospitals should employ all strategies to succeed in healthcare's value-based landscape.

"We should have 100 percent confidence that when we share, add or merge data, that it is absolutely associated to one and only one person and today we don't have that confidence," Mr. Foley said. "A unique health safety identifier goes further in eliminating problems that CIOs and CMIOs never thought they could solve."

To watch a recording of the webinar, click here.

To view the webinar's slides, click here. 

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