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Inaccurate patient matching and other identification errors have been haunting health service providers for some time now, but a new study suggests that the answer to this could be in your pocket, literally, as they have identified mobile phones and smartphones as possible solutions.
There is concern that available technologies on patient matching, which is defined as connecting of the correct medical records with a specific patient during a data exchange, are falling short, but a RAND Corporation study suggests that mobile phones could be helpful in solving this problem.
The study says mobile phones and smartphone apps offer a promising approach to ensure that an individual’s medical records, when shared between different health care providers, are matched correctly.
In a statement, Rand Corporation said accurate sharing of electronic medical records could improve the quality of care by decreasing duplicative tests and improving coordination.
“But sharing records across different medical systems faces challenges when trying to match records for the same patient. A 2014 report by the federal Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology suggested that when providers exchange records with each other, the success rate can be as low as 50 percent,” the statement said.
Record matching may fail when a patient has a common name or shares identifying details such as age and ethnicity with many other people, while typos in identifying information or when individuals change their names or addresses also are common causes of matching failures.
The report’s lead author, Robert Rudin, said: “Tools and methods that allow an individual’s mobile phone or smartphone to be used for improving medical record matching among different health providers appear to be particularly promising for a patient-empowered approach to the problem.”
The researchers say mobile phones may be used to “verify” a patient’s phone number with their providers, and apps may be used as part of a check-in process before a medical appointment to send updated identity information.
The study recommended that health IT experts begin by developing technical specifications for viable app information, which “includes creating standards for how the information will be collected in apps and in EHRs … [and identify] APIs and other bidirectional communication tools that would allow the app to verify identifying information within the EHR. Leaders in the patient matching movement will also need to develop benchmarks against which they can measure national progress in patient matching.”
However, Rudin advised that while smartphones and mobiles phones had so much promise, “these methods will require development and testing.”
One of the objectives of the report was to come up with a patient-empowered strategy that could leverage the expertise of the patient, as well as the stores of identifiable information in which the patient is already an expert.
The report recommends the adoption of a three-stage solution “that leverages mobile phones and smartphones and aims to improve the quality of identity information used for record matching, establish new functionalities of smartphone apps to facilitate transfer of this information to providers, and create advanced app functionality to further improve record matching and address other evaluation criteria (e.g., likelihood of adoption, sustainability).”
The researchers advised, however, that this alone won’t solve everything, saying there needed to be an industrywide change, requiring patients to be more engaged with their data, with Rudin cautioning that they had “found no silver bullet for empowering patients to improve record matching. Engaging patients in solving the problem likely requires real-world pilot testing and evaluation of an array of approaches.”
The research, which was funded by Pew Charitable Trusts, follows a letter written to Congress by healthcare service providers and health IT advocates, where they lamented “that incorrect or ineffective patient matching can have ramifications well beyond a healthcare organization’s four walls.”
They continued saying, the absence of a consistent approach to accurately identifying patients has resulted in significant costs to hospitals, health systems, physician practices, long-term post-acute care facilities, and other providers, as well as hindered efforts to facilitate health information exchange.
To buttress their point, they used a 2016 study of healthcare executives that showed that misidentification costs the average healthcare facility $17.4 million per year in denied claims and potential lost revenue. “More importantly, there are patient safety implications when data is matched to the wrong patient and when essential data is lacking from a patient’s record due to identity issues,” the letter to Congress reads.