Why does the US healthcare system badly need a Unique Patient Identifier?

In a nutshell hospital are busy and complex places where talented and dedicated individuals are doing remarkable work to save lives. Hospitals with proper management systems are able to provide patient safety as they put checks in place and creates strong lines of communication between hospital staff, patients and families as they make it their priority to provide the best services available. But providing wrong health services can provide detrimental harm to patients and their families. Leaving the hospitals and the caregiver’s reputation in jeopardy.

An everlasting problem that undermines US medical record-keeping, puts patients at risk, and costs the US healthcare system billions of dollars every year. The segment that is harmed the most are the underprivileged, who are unable to afford the wrong health care to be given, nor they are able to afford the time being consumed by the delay due to miss identification.

Families are losing trust in the US healthcare system due to receiving wrong healthcare services from hospitals and caregivers. Often times, they are found questionable due to being unable to properly identify patients due to lack of data on their medical record leading to upset family members and patients for receiving wrong treatment.


All of these harms that are being implemented incur unnecessary costs for them which they are unable to bear due to lack of information. The most severe and important outcome that can derive from the wrong patient receiving a care service not intended for them is actual physical harm. It should also be considered that the right patient not getting the proper care-service intended for them may also cause harm. Therefore, proper patient identification is crucial. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) does not set out specific steps or requirements for obtaining a patient’s choice whether to participate in eHIE.  However, adequately informing patients of these new models for exchange and giving them the choice whether to participate is one means of ensuring that patients trust these systems.  Providers are therefore encouraged to enable patients to make a meaningful consent choice rather than an uninformed one.

A misconception that takes place is that a single entity provides healthcare to an individual patient but that is incorrect. There is a much complex process where many parties are involved in providing healthcare services to the patients in exchange for their hard-earned money. Thus, it means that teamwork is very crucial in this industry so that the providers do not mix up the patients and provide consistent care. Therefore, if the US healthcare system enables third parties to create a database for the patients, it would create a much safer, transparent and seamless access to information.

The four basic things that are getting in the way of creating a unique identification record is the lack of incentive to share information, the second is about privacy, security & confidentiality, the third one is industry concern about switching cost & redevelopment cost to incorporate these technologies and finally, there are legal and regulatory barriers that prevent using such information as a health identifier.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), patients’ choices are to be implemented in Electronic Health Information Exchange (eHIE). Therefore, health care providers may decide to offer patients a choice as to whether their health information may be exchanged electronically, either directly or through a Health Information Exchange Organization (HIE). Meaning patients have an “opt-in” or “opt-out” mechanism in place for them.

Recently the Washington State Senate has passed a data privacy bill which changes the game for companies developing biometric facial recognition by providing consumers with new data privacy rights and introducing new regulations that are not covered by U.S. privacy laws, writes GeekWire. Under the new bill, SB 6281, businesses that operate with large personal data troves in Washington state must give consumers access to the information, as well as the opportunity to correct, delete and transfer the data.


Therefore, protection of privacy, security and confidentiality which is being lost because of medical ID theft, insurance fraud, patient mix-up, a denied claim, or in extreme cases, death is better protected via Unique Patient Identifier under the US healthcare system. As policy makers would be incentivized to create better policies to protect sensitive information under this act.

While a Unique Patient Identifier will certainly help the healthcare industry at large, as it will saves cost, improves patient care, protect privacy, give individuals more control over their information, an option to opt out, and lastly gives a better patient experience.

In summary, a Unique Patient Identifier system combined with a solid channel of communication with your patients will reduce errors in your practice, improve patient safety and care and increase the number of patients your practice can serve. Therefore, It’s a clear win for patients and medical practitioners alike.

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