In general, every hospital system assigns its own unique identifier to each patient whose medical record it maintains. But this makes it difficult to track patients across multiple systems and identify duplicate patients when different systems are linked.
National Patient ID System Advocacy
According to an April 2021 report from the Patient ID Coalition – which includes the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) – having a national patient ID system is needed to “support the access, exchange, and use of electronic health information.”
However, there are barriers to creating a national patient ID system in the United States:
- No national database.
- Issues with “dirty data” (i.e., when healthcare providers put incorrect information into patients’ medical records)
With the increased volume of COVID-19 lab results, for example, an article in the Journal of AHIMA recommends healthcare providers educate their staff about the “frequency of human error in patient identification—and how to guard against it.”
How Patient ID could work in an ideal world:
A lack of standardization of patient ID is not an issue that just affects the United States, and as the World Health Organization (WHO) notes in a May 2007 report. Issues with patient ID – such as patient misidentification — can lead to prescription errors.
According to WHO, a successful patient ID plan includes the following:
- Policies that healthcare providers that have responsibility for verifying patients’ identification
- Policies for healthcare providers to confirm patients’ identity in at least two different ways before they are admitted or receive care
- Policies to make sure patients’ healthcare information is shared between facilities in a healthcare system
What Is Causing Patient ID Errors?
An October 2018 report from Pew Trusts found around one in five patients may not be matched properly to their patient ID in the United States. The report also found contributing factors led to issues with patient ID not being matched adequately, including:
- Differences in standardization
- Information not being entered
- Information between two people being similar (like twins)
- Information changes like updates to last names
- Identity fraud
Privacy and Security Concerns with Patient ID
Because there are not currently federal patient ID networks, privacy and security concerns continue to make headlines. The Patient ID Coalition – a coalition of 40 healthcare organizations calling for the federal government to improve patient ID practices – however, says these concerns could be addressed at a local level and recommends hospital networks consider the following when creating a patient ID plan:
- Use both public and private sector resources to address privacy issues.
- Make sure to stay compliant with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act to protect patients' privacy.
- Allow patients to have involvement in what information is attached to their patient ID.
- Give patients information on their privacy rights.
- Patient ID information should be limited to healthcare-related issues.
What You Can Do to Advocate for Federal Patient ID
You can advocate for a federal patient ID network to standardize information and ensure different hospitals have access to your medical records – a point especially important in the event of an emergency and during travel.
Contact your members of Congress to explain why they support a federal patient ID network.
- Patient ID Now Framework (AHIMA.org)
- Patient Identification in Three Acts (AHIMA.org)
- Limiting the Use of Social Security Number in Healthcare: Chronological Order of SSN Legislation (AHIMA.org)
- Enhanced Patient Matching Is Critical to Achieving Full Promise of Digital Health Records (Pew Trusts)
- Patient Identification Errors: A Systems Challenge (Patient Safety Network)
If you are ever unable to confirm your identification information, your healthcare provider should speak with the family member(s) you’ve designated as your “Power of Attorney for Health Care.”
According to Kaiser Permanente, you can declare a medical power of attorney by filling out relevant paperwork at a hospital, state bar association, or office on aging. The exact process varies per state.