Advocacy Brings Progress for Patient Matching

Advocacy Brings Progress for Patient Matching

By Lesley Kadlec, MA, RHIA, CHDA

While accurately matching patients to their health data is widely recognized as critical to enhancing patient safety, achieving better patient outcomes, and ensuring accurate health information exchange, widespread challenges persist.

Patient matching and identification in healthcare is far from new. In fact, it was in 1996 that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) first established a set of national privacy and security standards for the protection of health information within the healthcare industry. At that time, language was included in HIPAA that required the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to adopt a standard unique patient identifier (UPI) for health plans, employers, providers, and patients. However, in 1998, due to privacy and security concerns, language was included in the annual appropriations bill prohibiting the use of federal funds to promulgate or adopt a unique patient identifier. This prohibition has remained in law ever since.

Fast forward to 2019: In June, the US House of Representatives adopted an amendment to the Labor, Health, Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Act of 2020, which struck the existing ban from the bill. Removal of the ban would have allowed the HHS to move forward with developing a national patient identification strategy

Unfortunately, when Congress passed its final spending package in December 2019, the bill maintained the UPI prohibition language. But the bill included language that, among other things, directs the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) to issue a report within one year that evaluates the effectiveness of current patient matching methods and recommends actions that increase the likelihood of an accurate match of patients to their health data. We have made more progress on this issue in the past year than we have since the ban was first put in place two decades ago.

AHIMA recognizes that HIM professionals have a voice and an opportunity to influence healthcare policy that extends beyond the four walls of their organization. Policies impacting HIM, including patient identification, exist at both the state and federal level. This has made advocacy increasingly important as healthcare organizations strive to create safe, interoperable health information systems to manage their growing volume of health data. AHIMA will continue to advocate for legislation that repeals the existing ban on the use of federal funds to promulgate or adopt a UPI to enable HHS to identify a national solution to address patient misidentification.

We need your help to make this happen. There are a few ways you can participate in AHIMA’s patient identification advocacy efforts:

  1. Subscribe to our advocacy email list to keep up to date on our work on patient identification and other HIM-related advocacy issues at:
  2. Let your voice be heard on social media. You can follow AHIMA on Facebook or follow us on Twitter at @AHIMAResources.

Regardless of your position or role in health information, you can make a real difference in the health and safety of all patients by promoting a solution for accurate patient identification. We look forward to working with you as we move AHIMA’s advocacy agenda ahead in 2020 and beyond.


Lesley Kadlec ( is director, policy and state advocacy engagement at AHIMA.

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