In order for HIT interoperability to advance in a safe, patient-centered way, a universal patient identifier (UPI) is essential to prevent inaccurate patient matching. Inaccurate patient matching leads to adverse events, compromised safety and privacy, inappropriate and unnecessary care and unnecessary burden on both patients and physicians. Correcting misidentification is a time consuming and expensive burden on health systems which requires them to detect and reconcile potentially dangerous duplicate patient records and improper record merges. This leads to increased health care costs, and poor oversight of fraud and abuse. Inaccurate data matching poses a significant risk to patient safety because information may be unavailable when needed or records may be merged incorrectly, leading to inappropriate treatment choices.
The critical need for a UPI was also highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. A UPI would have been beneficial in helping physicians track their patients’ testing results, monitor the long-term effects of COVID-19, support research efforts, and track vaccination. Because many pop-up COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites have been deployed during the pandemic, patient results may have never made it to their medical record. With a UPI, these results could have seamlessly followed patients to the records held by their general practitioners and typical sites of care.
Errors in individual data matching will be compounded with the expansion of electronic health information sharing. Further, in the absence of a UPI, algorithms are left to rely on other personal data, including, but not limited to, social security number, birthdate, address, and credit information. The ACS continues to support legislative efforts to allow the Department of Health and Human Services to explore and adopt a UPI as it would help to ensure that surgeons have a safer, more accurate and consistent way of linking their patients to their health information across the continuum of care.