House votes to overturn long-standing unique patient identifier ban

The U.S. House of Representatives has voted 246 to 178 to approve the Foster-Kelly Amendment to HR 2740, which overturns the longtime ban on federal funding for a national patient identifier. This is a major victory for supporters of a unique patient identifier.

The amendment has been added to the House’s version of the Department of Health and Human Services federal funding bill, HR 2740. The Senate must still OK the policy, which supporters have been pushing for more than two decades.

Matching data to patients

The identifier ban goes back to security concerns back in the 1990s. Industry groups from across the healthcare industry have wanted a unique patient identifier so organizations can best match data to the right patient.

In their electronic health records effort, the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are testing the use of unique patient identifiers.

“AHIMA is pleased that the House today has taken the first step in repealing an archaic ban that has stifled innovation and industry progress for nearly two decades,” stated Wylecia Wiggs Harris, CEO of the American Health Information Management Association.

“Accurately identifying patients and matching them to their data is essential to patient safety and care coordination, and it’s a requirement for health system transformation and the continuation of our progress toward enhancing nationwide interoperability,” she said.

Removal of this ban will empower HHS to explore a full range of patient matching solutions and enable it to work with the private sector to identify solutions that protect patient privacy and are cost-effective, scalable and secure, Harris added.

Progress toward interoperability

In its bipartisan repeal of the unique patient identifier ban, the House has cleared a path to using unique health identifiers to help achieve interoperability, said healthcare security vendor Imprivata CEO Gus Malezis.

“Repeal of the UPI ban represents a turning point in the effort to resolve the fundamental challenges of connecting the right patient with the right care and helping each person access or transport their correct record in our increasingly mobile world,” he said. “True interoperability requires federation and identity management, which we can only achieve with a trusted foundation. Simply put: It’s time to put an end to the nation’s patient identity crisis.”

Banning UPI effectively cast every healthcare patient in the dark, forcing patients and doctors and nurses to function blindly, devoid of necessary information, he added. Current technology can shine a light that leads to the optimized treatment of real people, the realization of true efficiencies, and measurable reductions in both time and costs, he continued.

“Repealing the UPI ban is just the first step in achieving perfection when it comes to identifying a person’s medical record,” Malezis stated. “We have the technology. Why would we not employ it fully?”

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
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