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Patient Safety in the Time of COVID: 13 Ways to Improve Patient Matching at Your Hospital Now

Patient matching is vital to patient safety and is, in some cases, a matter of life or death. An exposé by Politico,"Inside America's Covid-reporting breakdown," illustrates why quality leaders like you always keep patient matching top of mind.

According to the Aug. 15 piece, our inability to contain the COVID-19 outbreak was due largely to our inability to do contact tracing. And our inability to do contact tracing was due largely to our inability to match symptomatic people to their COVID test results for accurate, real-time data collection and reporting.

"When the data came in, state employees routinely found errors—instances where a person was counted twice or [where] two people with the same name were identified as a single patient," Politico wrote.

Patient matching has real-world consequences for patient safety—in this case, it is a contributing factor in more than 600,000 deaths from COVID in the U.S. That illustrates why you, as a hospital or health system quality leader, should take it seriously in your daily operations at your organization, and why Medisolv is right beside you to help.

To that end, we're going to look at some new initiatives and research on patient matching and suggest how you can convert that information into practical patient-matching ideas for your quality department.

Data accuracy, quality and standardization in patient identification

Patient ID Now  is a coalition of 40 healthcare organizations that advocates for legislation and regulations that support accurate patient identification with their medical records. In April, it released a 14-page Framework for a National Strategy on Patient Identity: A Proposed Blueprint to Improve Patient Identification and Matching. The framework details the coalition's recommendations to improve the accuracy of patient identification across all healthcare settings, including hospitals and health systems like yours. The 43 separate recommendations fall under nine domains:  

  • Accurate patient identification and match rates
    • testing indented list item
      • another list item
        • and again
  • Data quality
  • Equity and inclusion
  • Integration with current systems
  • Portability and interoperability
  • Privacy
  • Security
  • Standardization
  • Sustainability and governance

13 patient matching improvements you can make now

Although the nine domains and 43 recommendations are proposed tenets of statutory and regulatory patient matching solutions, they translate well into practical and actionable patient matching solutions for your hospital or health system.

For example, under the accurate identification and match rates domain, as a quality leader, you can:

  1. Set patient matching error rate benchmarks and standards
  2. Set patient matching KPIs, including a minimum acceptable level of patient matching accuracy
  3. Develop, disseminate and conduct staff training and education on patient identification and matching best practices
  4. Provide staff training and education on resolving patient matching and identification problems
  5. Continually monitor your performance against your benchmarks, standards and KPIs to drive improvements in your patient matching performance

Under the data quality domain, as a quality leader, you can:

  1. Establish foundational data integrity and quality processes and practices
  2. Give patients the opportunity to self-correct or flag inaccurate or suspect information in their medical records
  3. Minimize errors and fraudulent information in patients' medical records
  4. Create a process for recovering quickly and inexpensively from errors and fraudulent information in patients' medical records

And under the standardization domain, as a quality leader, you can:

  1. Define a minimum standardized data set that you need to accurately identify and match patients
  2. Participate and collaborate with industry-based patient matching initiatives like Patient ID Now and others
  3. Push for a standardized format for patient addresses and other data elements across all your care settings and all your health IT systems to increase accurate patient matching rates
  4. Approve guidance and set best practices for standardized patient data capture after mergers, acquisitions, partnerships, data and EHR system conversations and closings of care settings

As you can see, you don't have to wait for federal lawmakers or policymakers to codify these ideas in legislation or regulations to make changes in your organization. You can implement them on your own, and you can do so now.

The biometric patient matching option

Another set of practical patient-matching steps you can do yourself right now comes courtesy of a survey of consumers  by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

In June and July, Pew asked a nationally representative sample of 1,213 adults age 18 or older about how they feel about sharing and accessing their digital health data. As part of that survey, Pew asked the respondents a number of questions about patient matching.

Overall, 74% of the respondents said they support federal policy changes to set national standards to improve patient matching rates. And 67% said they support spending more federal dollars to improve patient matching.

Perhaps of more interest and practice use to quality leaders like you is how the respondents said they felt about different patient matching solutions. For example:

  • 66% said they were comfortable or very comfortable with unique numbers or codes
  • 65% said they were comfortable or very comfortable with fingerprint scans
  • 53% said they were comfortable or very comfortable with a smartphone or app
  • 53% said they were comfortable or very comfortable with facial photos
  • 51% said they were comfortable or very comfortable with eye scans

Overall, 54% of the respondents selected a biometric option (fingerprint scan, eye scan or facial photos) as their first patient matching technology choice.

Patient matching isn’t just a challenge for hospitals

Like the Politico piece mentioned earlier, Pew also connected COVID with the increased need and acceptance of better patient matching capabilities by providers.

"Correct identification of patients across the health care spectrum can ensure that patients, providers, and public health officials receive accurate COVID-19 test results and is a vital component in vaccine distribution," Pew’s researchers wrote.

Again, you don't need federal legislation, regulations or a deadly pandemic to move forward with most of the patient matching solutions identified by Pew in its survey. Other than a national patient identifier, which would require a change in federal law, you can pursue the other four technology ideas today, depending on your resources and health IT platform. And you can do so knowing that patients have your back. Their health depends on it.

Related: Improve the patient matching performance at your hospital or health system with the patient matching tools embedded in Medisolv's quality reporting software platform. 

To learn more on this topic, please read "Patient Safety: Don't Let a Case of Mistaken Identity Lead to Tragedy" on 

Erin Heilman

Erin Heilman is the Vice President of Sales & Marketing for Medisolv, Inc.

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