Between visits to primary care physicians and appointments with specialists, trips to urgent care, and planned (or unplanned) hospital stays, patients accumulate a lot of data over the course of their lives. The most common way to match data is using a person’s first name, last name, and date of birth. However, this method isn’t foolproof, and when a patient has more than one record, those dots of data don’t always connect.
Often when moving to a new health information system (HIS), organizations will take steps to minimize these challenges by employing the use of an enterprise master patient index (eMPI) or performing medical records number cleanup and deduplication efforts. Standardizing the use of eMPIs as a way to meet regulatory requirements is a growing trend that will present new opportunities for vendors working in that space.
Merger and acquisition activities are driving the need for eMPIs
Rapid consolidation of healthcare systems is on the rise and expected to continue. The top 10 health systems now control 24% of the market and their revenue grew at twice the rate of the rest of the market. Steady merger and acquisition activity highlights the need to bring data together into a single location – but federal mandates make it imperative.
New regulations, such as the 21st Century Cures Act, will soon mandate that all healthcare providers give patients access to their electronic health data, further emphasizing the value of unique patient identifiers. Organizations that adopt eMPIs will be prepared for upcoming regulation changes while enhancing patient safety.
Patients need a complete record upon request
Another key driver fueling the need for eMPIs addresses information blocking, which is anything that interferes with, prevents, or discourages the access or exchange of health information. Patients need a complete record when they request one. Additionally, healthcare providers require the ability to locate the correct patient records easily and efficiently at the point of care.
Finding information often requires accessing multiple systems to locate the data. For example, a patient may get married and change his or her name, and there may be duplicate records or multiple records in systems, without a unique identifier to link them.
As patients begin requesting and/or accessing their own records more frequently (and more freely), privacy and security issues arise. It’s very important to only give requestors their complete records. It’s equally as important to make sure they’re only able to access their own data. But, first and foremost, not having properly connected patient records is a patient safety issue. Mismatched records could mean treating the wrong patient or making care decisions without vital information This requires a strong vendor that links patient records and also keeps them linked.
Another challenge is the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC)’s requirement to use Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) to send designated record sets. This consideration will require a unique identifier to ensure not only that the correct information is provided to a specific patient, but also that the correct patient information is sent electronically to its intended destination.
New opportunities that secure a competitive advantage
Organizations that adopt an eMPI strategy now will be ahead of the game and prepared for the new regulations on the horizon. Expect to see new vendors entering this space, while those that already exist may have a significant advantage.
A strong trend to watch is referential matching, which is a solution that supports the development and maintenance of unique identifiers for patients. The referential match expands to include data outside of the healthcare organization and references sources such as credit bureaus, court records and other large public databases to ensure accuracy of personal data. A unique health ID may be adopted in the future, but for now, linking data will heavily rely on public data sources. The goal is to get linked and stay linked when these records are created.
Preparing for the future
Patient safety, interoperability, privacy and confidentiality, and compliance with state and federal regulations are excellent reasons to develop unique patient identifiers, and especially eMPIs. We aren’t going back to paper anytime soon, with the exception of emergency situations, so developing an eMPI strategy is key to staying ahead of the curve.
Providers need to ensure they are treating the right patient and have access to a complete record, including the patient’s history. Patients need to be limited to seeing their own records, and organizations and other “actors” must comply with the 21st Century Cures Act to prevent information-blocking concerns.
In the next couple of years, providing patients access to their own records, including legacy archived records, with the ability to request or send them via FHIR, means getting prepared now. Many changes are coming, so it’s critically important to get the basics in place, and this includes a unique patient identifier for every patient.
Article originally published on May 19, 2021 on the Active Archive Alliance blog.