Protecting Patient Identities

Protecting Patient Identities

Attention: open in a new window. PDF | Print | E-mail

Healthcare IT security company Imprivata recently described patient identification as “providing the right care to the right patient at the right time.” Patient identity has become a major issue in the healthcare arena, and is an issue CoreTech Revolution encounters frequently in client projects.

How Patient Identification Issues Developed

Formerly, patient identification was tied to an individual’s social security number, but security restrictions now discourage using full social security numbers to define patients due to risks related to identity theft and insurance fraud.

Today, patients may have a different unique ID for every healthcare provider or organization where they received treatment. Each hospital or health care organization assigns a unique ID number to match and identify patients in its system. However, each system uses a different algorithm to define patients in its database. Patients with similar names, birthdays or other information can complicate the identification process, and thus cause issues at the point of care.

As many hospitals and healthcare practices work to integrate patient records with other systems via electronic health records (EHRs) and state-wide Healthcare Information Exchanges (HIEs), they now must develop a standard way of identifying each patient data, despite the differences in how each system operates and displays information. Health care companies must tackle this overarching issue of identification, consolidation and standardization when implementing or integrating new technologies, or they could face challenges with workflow, errors and more.

Risks of Patient Identification Errors

Patient ID errors can occur easily and often in an organization, and can stem from inaccurate data entry, record matching, duplicate entries, database issues and human errors. Without positive patient identification, the healthcare practice risks:

  • Mistakes in clinical decision-making
  • Threatened patient safety and security (identity theft; insurance fraud)
  • Fragmented health records
  • Poor continuance of care
  • Inefficient workflow and productivity
  • Increased costs to patient, practice and payer
  • Patient frustration and dissatisfaction

How to Improve Patient Identification:

Improving patient identification starts at the practice level. An IT partner such as CoreTech Revolution can help you map your workflow as well as evaluate your current patient database to help you standardize all of your patient identification numbers and remove any duplications or errors. Your IT team can also ensure that you integrate these unique IDs properly when connecting or sharing data with another provider or regional HIE.

Some tips that healthcare providers can develop into their workflow to assist include:

  • Taking a photo of patients for use in the patient record and database
  • Requiring copies of government-issued photo ID and insurance cards upon registration
  • Using multiple attributes (such as address, date of birth, phone number, etc.) to determine a patient’s identity
  • Collect other information about the patient (such as mother’s maiden name) to verify identity
  • Developing standards and policies for practice activities involving patient identification

In addition, your IT partner can help you find a patient identification solution that makes sense with your workflow and needs, and also integrates with EMR and other technology solutions. Enterprise master patient index (EMPI) systems can help you maintain consistent patient records by matching unique patient demographic variables (name, date of birth, gender, etc.) in order to improve patient matching and identification.

The Future of Patient Identification

In the near future, the U.S. government may pass legislation to implement a unique health identifier requirement for every patient. In addition, advances in biometric identification (fingerprint, hand print and/or retina scans) may also provide more accurate identifiers than demographic information, and more options are becoming available for implementation. No matter what methods are used, healthcare providers must integrate existing technologies to ensure that their current workflow helps to accurately identify patients, while protecting and securing their personal health data.