GAO Issues Long-Awaited Report on Patient Matching

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Original story posted on: January 21, 2019

The report cites the need for more work by providers.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on patient matching dropped last Wednesday. The industry had been waiting for the report since the 2016 passage of the 21st Century Cures Act, which included a provision for the GAO to report on the Office of the National Coordinator’s (ONC’s) patient record matching policies and related activities. 

The report concluded that more work is needed to ensure that patient health records are consistently and accurately matched. The GAO interviewed a total of 37 stakeholders, including ONC officials, provider and industry associations, representatives from physician practices, hospitals, health systems, health information exchanges (HIEs), and information technology vendors. 

The interviewed parties reported the following challenges:

  • Inaccurate, incomplete, or inconsistently formatted demographic information (i.e. patient first name, last name, middle name, date of birth, address, cell phone contact, etc.)
  • Patients’ records don’t always contain correct information, and health information technology systems and providers use different formats for key information such as names that contain hyphens.

These findings are very well-known to those who manage the master patient index in their healthcare facilities. Most health information management (HIM) professionals struggle daily with the management and resolution of these data discrepancies.

Stakeholders relayed that more could be done to improve patient matching, identifying several suggestions:

  • Establishing common standards for demographic data
  • Developing a data set to test the accuracy of matching methods
  • Sharing best practices and other resources
  • Implementing a national unique patient identifier
  • Developing a public-private collaboration effort
  • Instituting an ONC requirement of demographic data standards as part of the electronic health record (EHR) certification process; others suggested ONC facilitate the voluntary adoption of such standards

Finally, the report noted that many stakeholders emphasized that no single effort would solve the challenge of patient matching. This is an important finding since patient matching is not a one-and-done, technology-only solution. The people, processes, and technology approach used by many healthcare organizations incorporates staff education and training, daily maintenance of the master patient index by a data integrity team, and ensuring that the technology used to sometimes auto-match records are monitored for quality.

The healthcare industry has long recognized the need for accurate patient matching. As our systems become larger through mergers and acquisitions, technology disruption, and ingesting data from multiple sources, the patient’s demographic data will grow in complexity without data standards.


Program Note:

Listen to Julie Dooling report this story today on Talk Ten Tuesday, 10 a.m. Eastern. 


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Julie A. Dooling, MSHI, RHIA, CHDA, FAHIMA

Julie A. Dooling, MSHI, RHIA, CHDA, FAHIMA, is a director of HIM Practice Excellent for AHIMA.

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