Working together to effectively address patient identification during COVID-19

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The COVID-19 pandemic has put a strain on many areas of our health care and public health system and laid bare existing problems that are exacerbated during this crisis. One such area that must be addressed by policymakers is the issue of patient identification. Each year thousands of Americans lose their lives through administrative errors, including patient misidentification, but right now the U.S. lacks a national strategy to address this dire problem.

For nearly two decades, section 510 of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) appropriations bill within the federal budget has banned the use of federal funding to allow the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to create or adopt a unique patient identifier. In July, we offered an amendment to repeal section 510 during consideration of the Labor-HHS bill on the floor of the House of Representatives. With the support of Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), our amendment unanimously passed the House. It is now time for the Senate to also act and remove section 510.

Why is it so important to match a patient to their health information, especially in a pandemic? Patient ID Now, a coalition that supports a national patient identification strategy, says failure to accurately match patients to their health information raises patient safety concerns, including medical errors, delayed or lost diagnoses, duplicative testing, and wrong patient orders.

As we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, the nationwide response hinges on accurate patient information. Patient misidentification is currently even a barrier to the first step in addressing the virus — testing. We have seen reports of patient samples being collected at temporary testing sites, which are then sent off-site to public health agencies for testing. Once the results are returned, there are many instances of difficulties matching the results to the correct patient given the inconsistent and scant amount of demographic information included with the sample. This can lead to not only a backlog of COVID-19 test results unable to be returned to patients, but even results being sent to the wrong patient, increasing the safety risks to the entire community, (not to mention jeopardizing patient privacy). Field hospitals and aforementioned temporary testing sites — like those in parks, convention centers, and parking lots — can exacerbate these challenges.

Accurate patient identification is not just vital for the initial COVID-19 diagnosis. Ensuring the correct patient medical history is accurately matched to the patient is also critical for future patient care, patients’ long-term access to their complete health record, and for tracking the long-term health effects of COVID-19, which the medical community does not currently know.

Even more concerning, 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. Multiple dose vaccines could worsen these already present challenges, and any inaccurate patient information on immunizations could endanger not only that patient, but entire communities.

The problem of patient misidentification extends to already overburdened hospitals and providers during this pandemic. Approximately 33 percent of all denied hospital claims are associated with inaccurate patient identification, costing the average hospital $1.5 million each year, and the health care system more than $6 billion. Patient misidentification costs the average clinician almost half an hour in wasted time per shift.

Advancing a national patient identification strategy would reduce the number of patients who are assigned duplicate or inaccurate medical records, which would in turn improve care to all patients. As our country strives to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, we must have the accurate patient data to do so. We call upon Sens. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) to take the lead and support the removal of section 510 of the Labor-HHS bill.

Bill Foster represents the 11th District of Illinois and Mike Kelly represents the 16th District of Pennsylvania.

Tags Bill Foster Coronavirus COVID-19 Medical error Mike Kelly patient identification Patrick Leahy Patty Murray Richard Shelby Rosa DeLauro Roy Blunt

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