More on Policy and Legislation

House votes to overturn unique patient identifier ban

The voice vote approves the Foster-Kelly Amendment, which removes language that prohibits federal funding for the adoption of a unique patient ID.

The House of Representatives today approved the bipartisan Foster-Kelly Amendment as a part of the six-bill FY2021 minibus package that includes the Labor-HHS appropriations bill, which also passed today.

The Foster-Kelly Amendment, led by representatives Bill Foster, D-Ill., and Mike Kelly, R-Pa., removes Section 510 of the Labor-HHS bill, which prohibits federal funds for the promulgation or adoption of a unique patient identifier.

With this amendment, the Department of Health and Human Services could work with the healthcare community to develop a nationwide patient-matching strategy.

The Senate must still OK the policy change, which an array of healthcare stakeholders have been pushing for more than two decades.


The ECRI Institute defines patient identification as "the process of correctly matching a patient to appropriately intended interventions and communicating information about the patient's identity accurately and reliably throughout the continuum of care."

Identifiers can include factors such as name, date of birth, phone number, address, photo and social security number.

Despite all of those ways to identify a patient, mismatches still occur – which pose a major hurdle to more seamless nationwide interoperability and data sharing.

Patient ID Now, a coalition of healthcare organizations, including HIMSS, advocates for better patient identification methods through legislation and regulations. The group cites a number of cases of wrongful identification involving situations of duplicated patient records, false identification and mislabeled lab results.

Each case of misidentification costs at least $1,200, and some cases have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and taken months to resolve, according to a report from the Mayo Clinic.

"A misidentified patient in the hospital is the most costly because of the potential for treatment errors and/or an extended stay," the report states.


Last year, the same amendment made it through the House but didn't end up making it all the way into law.

This time around, however, things could be different because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In May, Pew Charitable Trusts sent Congress a letter urging it to address the issues around patient identification.

"As Congress looks to enhance the nation's capacity to respond to this pandemic, improving patient matching will be critical. Congress should work with federal agencies – such as the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and the U.S. Postal Service – to ensure that they are using all the available tools they have so that public health entities can effectively trace contacts and track immunizations," the letter states.

Despite having long-standing support from many healthcare organizations, the amendment has received criticism.

When it was up for a vote last year, the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the House imploring members to vote no.

"By striking Section 510, the amendment could provide the foundations for a national medical I.D. system and permit inadequate unique health identifier regulations. This system would not only threaten individuals' privacy rights but also raise significant concerns regarding the protection of sensitive medical information," the letter states.


HIMSS, the parent company of Healthcare Finance News, is a longtime proponent of unique patient ID and was among the organizations cheering today's vote.

"HIMSS applauds the House of Representatives for taking decisive action to eliminate the outdated and harmful appropriations ban on a unique patient identifier and permit HHS to actively engage in developing a national patient matching strategy," said Hal Wolf, HIMSS president and CEO, in a statement. "We encourage the Senate to include similar language in their appropriations bill, so the healthcare community can take action to advance patient safety through interoperable digital health information exchange."

"Accurately matching patients to their health information is critical to delivering safe, efficient and high-quality care during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond," added Blair Childs, senior VP of public affairs at Premier healthcare alliance. "Today, the House took an important step to removing a major impediment to patient matching and identification, which is putting patients at risk, increasing healthcare costs, perpetuating inefficiencies in care delivery and coordination, and undermining efforts to achieve nationwide interoperability."

Twitter: @HackettMallory
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