This spring in Chicago a woman and her adult daughter—who share the same name but have different birthdays—were tested for COVID-19 at the same pop-up testing center affiliated with a hospital. When one of them tested positive for the virus, health officials called the wrong woman. Although the mix-up was discovered the next day, the episode underlines the gravity of patient identification errors and the need for a nationwide strategy to address the issue.
To that end, AHIMA has taken a lead role in addressing the issue of patient identification at the federal level. As a founding member of a new coalition, Patient ID Now, AHIMA is raising visibility on patient identification with lawmakers, regulators, the media, and other health organizations. The coalition is co-founded with the American College of Surgeons, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), Intermountain Healthcare, and Premier Healthcare Alliance. The website for the alliance can be found at PatientIDnow.org.
Members of this group are committed to addressing the issue of patient identification by advocating specifically for the removal of section 510 from the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill, which would allow the US Department of Health and Humans Services (HHS) the flexibility to work with the private sector to develop a nationwide patient identification strategy. Currently, there is long-standing federal statutory language in the federal budget that has hampered the ability of HHS to advance a nationwide patient identification strategy between the public and private sectors.
“It’s inspiring to see six healthcare organizations work together to create positive change for patients and healthcare systems,” said AHIMA CEO Wylecia Wiggs Harris, PhD, CAE. “I am optimistic Patient ID Now will achieve its goals of helping healthcare systems better match patients with their data.”
AHIMA Activities on the Hill
This week AHIMA and the Patient ID Now coalition worked with its champions in Congress, Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL) and Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA), to raise visibility of the issue in the midst of the federal budget process. AHIMA worked with Foster and Kelly to send House appropriators a “Dear Colleague” letter (a letter signed by multiple Members of Congress) to demonstrate support for this ask in the House of Representatives. The letter stressed the importance of having accurate patient information amidst a pandemic, including why it is necessary for the anticipated COVID-19 vaccine.
“The nationwide response in the coming months to the COVID-19 pandemic will also hinge on accurate information. Once a vaccine is created, any large-scale immunization programs will depend on accurate patient information to identify who has had the disease, who has been vaccinated, and what their outcomes are. We must move quickly to address these issues and protect the safety and health of patients and the nation as a whole,” the letter states.
Additionally, Patient ID Now will be sponsoring a webinar briefing on July 7, titled “Patient Matching: An Essential Tool in the Era of COVID-19.” Please check the Patient ID Now Resources page to register for the briefing.
Mary Butler (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior editor at the Journal of AHIMA.