What do patients think of emerging patient-matching techniques? Pew investigates

Biometric identification may be the most promising approach to patient matching, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts analysis of patient perspectives.

Pew worked with Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research Associates to conduct 11 focus groups with 95 participants in June 2017 and January 2018 as part of a report on patient-matching strategies. Pew acknowledged the focus groups were not nationally representative, but argued they were diverse in geography, political leaning and insurance status, among other characteristics.

Pew asked focus group participants about their experiences with and attitudes toward patient matching, or the process of linking medical records from various healthcare facilities to a single patient. The current process largely relies on demographic data — such as matching names or dates of birth — which doesn't account for similarities among patients or mitigate the risk of identity theft.

In a report released in early October, Pew outlined four approaches to improve patient matching: unique identifiers, patient-empowered approaches, refined demographic standards and referential matching. Here are four insights into patients' attitudes toward these approaches:

1. Most participants weren't aware of the safety risks and costs associated with patient-matching issues, although some recalled experiences of having trouble transferring medical records between healthcare facilities or of having their medical records confused with another patient's. However, once informed of the potential patient safety risks during the focus groups, they expressed support for improving the current process.

2. Participants were most supportive of integrating unique patient identifiers into the healthcare system to improve patient matching, and tended to express a particular interest in biometric identification. Participants were drawn to how biometric solutions — which leverage body measurements specific to a person, such as a fingerprint — were accurate, secure and less likely to be stolen than other approaches.

3. Another one of participants' top choices was encouraging healthcare providers to agree on data standards, so that all facilities could coordinate patient matching by capturing data in a common format.

4. Most participants did not express interest in assigning patients "smart cards" or unique numeric codes, which they said could easily be lost, stolen or forgotten. They also indicated discomfort with incorporating third-party data — such as information from credit bureaus or the U.S. Postal Service — to bolster patient matching with demographic data, citing privacy concerns.

To download Pew's report, click here.

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