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Access to Affordable Healthcare

How a Better Patient Identification Solution Can Solve a National Health Crisis

Wylecia Wiggs Harris, Ph.D., CAE

American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA)

A mixup at a New Jersey hospital resulted in an organ transplant patient receiving the wrong kidney. In another case, a nursing infant was given breast milk from the wrong mother, who was infected with hepatitis. In yet another, a patient was found unresponsive after being cleared for a surgery intended for someone else. In a fatal case, a patient was denied lifesaving care because of a “do not resuscitate” order intended for another patient.

As medical errors continue to pose a significant and ongoing threat, resulting in the third-highest cause of U.S. deaths., the duty to protect our patients is more evident now than ever before.

Identifying a problem

A recent ECRI report listed patient misidentification among the Top 10 threats to patient safety. The Joint Commission has declared accurate patient identification as one of its National Patient Safety Goals. The National Quality Forum lists patient identification errors as a high-priority area for measuring health information technology. 

At the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), we are working diligently to provide the necessary safeguards that promote accuracy while not sacrificing privacy and security. As the global leader in health information management, our vision is a world where trusted information transforms health and healthcare by connecting people, systems, and ideas. 

Progress has been slow but we are moving closer toward a nationwide patient identification solution. 

Small steps

In June 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment that removed a ban on using federal dollars to adopt a national patient identifier. Fast forward to December, where appropriators did not remove the ban but included report language in the Labor-HHS appropriation bill acknowledging the challenges with misidentification:

The general provision limiting funds for actions related to promulgation or adoption of a standard providing for the assignment of a unique health identifier does not prohibit efforts to address the growing problems faced by health systems with patient matching. The agreement encourages HHS to continue to provide technical assistance to private-sector-led initiatives to develop a coordinated national strategy that will promote patient safety by accurately identifying patients to their health information. 

It is a critical step in the right direction. The battle is far from over but we’re getting closer.

We invite you to join AHIMA’s efforts as we advance our mission to empower people to impact health. Visit our Action Center to see how you can get involved and sign up for our newsletter to stay abreast of our latest efforts toward better outcomes for patients.


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