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Teaming Up to Identify Patient Matching Challenges

In recent years, electronic health record (EHR) technologies have made significant strides to improve patient safety and care coordination; however, some unanticipated consequences have arisen alongside these advances, including challenges associated with accurate patient matching. Despite these challenges, the United States is continuing to experience an explosion in EHR adoption and use.

One such challenge is the issue of patient record matching. Patient matching errors obstruct improvement of healthcare quality through health information exchange and care coordination, and contribute to deaths resulting from medical errors – the third highest cause of death in the United States according to a recent study conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine. Despite best practices in patient access and medical record management to avoid duplicating patient records, duplicate records proliferate across the industry.

Working in conjunction with The College of St. Scholastica, Just Associates’ identity and data integrity experts conducted a study regarding the impact on duplicate record creation by data discrepancies in key patient identity fields. Published in Perspectives in Health Information Management, the online research journal from the AHIMA Foundation, “Why Patient Matching Is a Challenge: Research on Master Patient Index (MPI) Data Discrepancies in Key Identifying Fields,” found that the middle-name field had the most mismatches at more than 58 percent, followed closely by the Social Security Number field at 53.5 percent.

The study closely examined the underlying causes of duplicate records, using a multisite data set of 398,939 patient records with confirmed duplicates and analyzing multiple reasons for data discrepancies between those record matches. Researchers found that most mismatches in the name fields were the result of misspellings (53.1 percent in first name and 33.6 percent in last name) or from reversing names, e.g. last name being entered in the first name field.

Just Associates President and CEO, Beth Just, MBA, RHIA, FHIMA, noted that “the study highlighted patient identification issues that continue to plague healthcare and impede progress toward interoperability, improved care quality and patient safety.” She also added that, “even with the emergence of best practices, clinical systems remain clogged with duplicate records, shaking providers’ confidence in the quality of patient data being shared.”

It was ultimately concluded that sophisticated technology alone is not enough to significantly improve patient matching. As with many complex problems, it will require a multi-pronged solution including people, process and technology to ultimately eliminate duplicate records in our electronic health records and the multitude of downstream clinical systems in use.

Based on the findings, it was determined that this study and others like it are extremely important if we are to “fully understand the root causes of duplicates and design solutions that close the gaps in technology, policies, processes and training that exacerbate the issue,” says Just.