By Lesley Kadlec, MA, RHIA, CHDA

Health information (HI) professionals are acutely aware that the ability to accurately identify patients poses a significant risk to patient safety, and misidentification of patients has a negative effect on interoperability. To assist HI professionals in mitigating patient identity problems associated with inconsistencies in patient name collection, AHIMA’s new Naming Policy provides guidance on a number of key demographic components that should be addressed in organizational naming policies to help reduce the risk of patient identity errors and ensure the ability to seamlessly exchange health data across the healthcare ecosystem.

To assist in creating the AHIMA naming policy, a work group was established to provide subject matter expertise and develop best practices related to naming conventions for accurate patient identification. A key finding from the work group was the importance of developing a nationwide approach to the entry of patient names into health information technology (IT) systems.

Collecting patient demographic information in health IT systems is the initial point of entry that ultimately leads to creating trusted, reliable patient data. However, organizational policies around the collection of patient demographics in healthcare often vary. This results in wide variability in the ways patient names are entered which can threaten patient safety and limit the ability to share data. This also leads additional problems such as delayed claims, duplicative testing, and diminished data quality and integrity.

Lack of standard data entry can unfortunately lead to patient health records from across the care continuum not being linked correctly to one another, resulting in incomplete information being available at the time the provider is treating the patient. AHIMA’s Naming Policy provides guidelines for the data entry of patient names to assist in mitigating the problem of patient identity errors. These errors take time and are costly to correct, and sometimes may go unnoticed for months or even years, leaving gaps in knowledge and threatening patient safety and quality of care.

There are a number of positive legislative and industry efforts being taken to develop and support a national patient matching strategy. However, at present, the healthcare industry continues to operate without one. As a result, naming policies and their associated guidelines will remain crucial as we operationalize a future where standards, best practices, and guidelines improve the capture of patient demographics, including patient names, to increase patient matching rates and ensure that every patient is inextricably linked to their unique health record.  AHIMA’s Naming Policy helps bridge the gap in healthcare while awaiting a national strategy to be adopted.


AHIMA would like to thank the following health information professionals who informed the development of the naming policy:

Deborah Adair, RHIA, MPH, MS, Executive Director, Digital Health Enterprise HIM, Mass General Brigham

Susan Clark, BS, RHIT, CHTS-IM, CHTS-PW, Health IT Consultant, Briljent

Angelique Jefferson, RHIA, Associate Consultant, Cerner Corporation

Judy Kelly, MS, RHIA, CCS, CCS-P, CHDA, CPHI, Sr. Director HIM & CDI, Rochester  Regional Health

Katherine Lusk, MHSM, RHIA, FAHIMA, AHIMA Board Chair, Senior Director Strategic Partnerships, Texas Services Authority

Mark Newsom, MSc, Principal, Health Evaluations

Neysa Noreen, MS, RHIA, Inpatient Coding and CDI Manager, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota

Rachel Podczervinski, MS, RHIA, Vice President, Professional Services, Harris Data Integrity Solutions

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

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