New Senate bill takes aim at patient matching improvements, with help from the post office

By | August 9, 2020

With proposed legislation they say would bolster COVID-19 response efforts nationwide, two Senators have introduced a new bill aimed at more accurately linking patient records across the care continuum.

The Patient Matching Improvement Act, drafted by Sens. Maggie Hassan, D-New Hampshire, and Dr. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, seeks to accomplish this by making the United States Postal Service’s address-formatting tool – something that is commonly used by online retailers to ensure accuracy  – is also available for use by health care providers.

Inadequate patient identification and matching across multiple healthcare providers can pose safety issues in normal times, of course. During the pandemic, the dangers could impact whole populations, as mismatched identities complicate contact tracing efforts.

Hassan and Cassidy say the new legislation would enable more accurate exchange of health information between health IT systems – not just at hospitals and physician practices, but also at laboratories and COVID-19 testing sites.

The senators point to research showing that effective use of the Postal Service’s address-formatting standards could enable tens of thousands of additional correct record linkages per day.

Shortcomings in the ability to accurately match patient records have been vexing healthcare for decades of course. But the issue has gained added urgency since the onset of the pandemic, given the hurdles it presents two must-haves on the road to reopening: contact tracing and, hopefully someday, vaccine administration.

In May, Pew Charitable Trusts called on Congress to act – and suggested the post office as a potential partner.

“As Congress looks to enhance the nation’s capacity to respond to this pandemic, improving patient matching will be critical,” said Pew’s Project Director for Health Information Technology Ben Moscovitch.

“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,” he said.

This past week, the House of Representatives offered some more potential good news on this front, voting to approve the bipartisan Foster-Kelly Amendment, which would lift the ban on using federal funds for adoption of a unique patient ID – perhaps paving the way for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to work more closely with other agencies and private sector stakeholders on a nationwide patient-matching strategy.

“Giving health care providers access to the Postal Service’s existing address tools would help save lives by making it easier to conduct COVID-19 contact tracing,” said Senator Hassan in a statement. “This common-sense bipartisan legislation should be included in the next COVID-19 relief package.”

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
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