Petition Calls for Unique Patient Identifier Solution

A petition that calls for the development of a voluntary patient safety identifier officially launched on Sunday and is now open for signatures. The petition is part of AHIMA’s MyHealthID advocacy campaign aiming to educate consumers, healthcare professionals, and government officials about the need for a unique patient identifier system. Posted to  the petition needs 100,000 signatures by April 19, 2016 in order to obtain a formal response from the White House.

Colorful Silhouette Cutouts Graphic“Remove the federal budget ban that prohibits the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from participating in efforts to find a patient identification solution. We support a voluntary patient safety identifier,” the petition states. “Accurate patient identification is critical in providing safe care but the sharing of electronic health information is being compromised because of patient identification issues. Let’s start the conversation and find a solution.”

Why a Patient Identifier is Needed

The current lack of a unique patient identifier system means that healthcare providers typically rely on a patient’s name and date of birth to identify their medical records in electronic health record (EHR) systems—information that is often not unique to one individual. This means that providers often have a difficult time properly identifying patients, and often incorporate medical information into the wrong health record.

These inaccuracies can have dire financial and medical consequences, AHIMA officials said, such as missed diagnoses, inappropriate treatments, unnecessary tests, and the inability of physicians to accurately share information with other providers to improve patient care.

A recent survey with AHIMA members revealed that over half of HIM professionals routinely work on mitigating possible patient record duplicates at their facility, and of those 72 percent work on mitigating duplicate records weekly. Contributing to the issue, less than half (47 percent) of respondents stated they have a quality assurance step in their registration or post registration process, and face a lack of resources to adequately correct duplicates.

Although a patient identifier system was originally proposed in HIPAA, since the late 1990s, the federal government has been prohibited from even discussing the creation of a unique patient identifier system after privacy advocates raised fears that an assigned identification number would be an encroachment of “Big Brother” and could be misused, according to the March 2016 Journal of AHIMA article “Finding John Doe,” an in-depth examination of patient identifier issues and the MyHealthID campaign.

Twenty years later the healthcare industry is still struggling with how to properly identify patients. The ban has been placed in a budget appropriations bill and carried forward every year since 1999. The petition calls for the immediate removal of this language from the appropriations bill.

Petition Proposes a Voluntary Solution

AHIMA officials said they are optimistic that consumer perspectives have changed and that it is now time to revisit the national conversation about a unique patient identifier.

AHIMA’s proposed strategy to address the problem includes:

  • A voluntary system in which individual patients could choose if they wish to participate.
  • A system where consumers select their own identifier, much as they do when they select usernames, passwords, or e-mail addresses.
  • A unique identifier for each individual that can be used when provided by the patient to access medical records.

“EHRs have become more prevalent and have reached a stage where the lack of a patient identification strategy has become a daunting challenge that threatens patient privacy and safety. AHIMA is confident the technology exists to solve this problem while ensuring that patient privacy is protected. But it will require public-private collaboration and open discussion,” said Lynne Thomas Gordon, MBA, RHIA, CAE, FACHE, FAHIMA, CEO of AHIMA. “We encourage patients, healthcare professionals, and the public to sign our online petition to ask our leaders to take a look at the critical issue of patient matching. We want to make healthcare safer, more efficient, and more effective for all patients. AHIMA believes a voluntary identifier—created and controlled by patients—will do just that.”

Other MyHealthID Events and Resources
  • AHIMA has partnered with to host a #MyHealthID Twitter Chat on March 24 from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. ET to discuss consumer engagement in their health, healthcare, and overall well-being. During the rally AHIMA will publicly share resources to help consumers make healthcare decisions, and invite participants to sign the #MyHealthID national petition. Click here for more details.
  • A MyHealthID video contest is now open. AHIMA members are encouraged to make a “There’s Only One Me” video and post it on social media, along with a link to Every video will be entered into a raffle to win a $100 AMEX gift card. Click here for more details.
  • A toolkit has been developed containing directions and ideas for educating people about this issue in an organization; among colleagues, friends, and family; and on social media. Click here for more details.
  • An introductory webinar to the MyHealthID campaign is now available to either stream or download.
  • Research on patient matching was published recently in Perspectives in Health Information Management.
  • View a Journal of AHIMA video on the MyHealth ID campaign and why a voluntary patient safety identifier is needed.

Click here to sign the petition.


    • Yes, this is very important. The exchange of information and pop health won’t deliver on quality standards if duplicate patients exist throughout the exchange.

      Post a Reply
    • I see why we need a unique identifier and maybe I missed it, but what is it?

      Post a Reply
  1. is there a follow up article on the outcome of this petition?

    Post a Reply
    • We did not post a follow up article on the petition, but here is an update. While thousands of signatures were collected, unfortunately AHIMA did not collect the 100,000 signatures needed by the deadline of April 19, 2016 in order to obtain a formal response from the White House.
      That said, the petition was successful in starting a conversation both in Washington, DC and in the healthcare industry about the need for better patient identification. Watch for the January 2018 issue of the Journal of AHIMA, where we will be running a feature article discussing the various patient identification/patient matching efforts that are now gaining traction in the healthcare industry.
      -Chris Dimick, Journal of AHIMA Editor-in-Chief

      Post a Reply
        • SSN would indeed be an effective way to track patients, but it seems that people are adverse to that, possibly because of the financial implications.
          A similar number for health care only is what is needed.

          Post a Reply


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