Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Congressional Gridlock Stalls Hopes for National Patient Identifier and Meaningful Use Stage 2 Delay

Many in the health IT field believe that implementing a national patient identifier and a deadline extension for stage 2 meaningful use requirements would ensure a more cohesive operation of patient access and identification systems and increase patient safety.  Both of these problems require congressional action to solve, but with a Congress that fails to pass even the most basic pieces of legislation and appropriations it is unlikely there will be any legislation addressing these issues in the year to come.

National Patient Identifier

A national patient identifier would go far to improve patient safety by improving the accuracy with which patients are matched with their medical records.  Ideally, a national patient identifier would be a unique number for each patient with a two-digit checksum at the end of the number. In practice this would allow a patient’s data to move completely through multiple data systems without comingling with other patients’ records that may contain similar names, addresses and other identifying factors.

However, the likelihood of legislation requiring a national patient identifier is very slim after Congress voted to overturn a HIPAA provision that would have required a patient identifier in 1998. Congressional opposition focused on privacy concerns and the capability providers have to identify patients with several different identifying factors. Former national health IT coordinator Farzad Mostashari, M.D., explained that he believed the odds were very low for a national patient identifier and that it would require the industry proving they are unable to keep patients straight by cross-checking a patient’s identity with other identifying factors available to the provider.

Meaningful Use Incentive Program

The electronic health records meaningful use incentive program was created to advance the adoption of health information technology nationwide. Beginning in 2014 eligible hospitals and professionals will have to comply with stage 2 of the regulatory standards in order to receive corresponding incentive payments. 

Senator Alexander and Senator Thune, along with 15 other Senators, wrote a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius requesting more time for implementation of stage 2 standards. Their letter stated, “If the goal is to improve care by achieving broad and meaningful utilization of EHRs, providing sufficient time to ensure a safe, orderly transition through Stage 2 is critical to having stakeholder buy-in, a necessary component of long-term success.

However, former national health IT coordinator Farzad Mostashari, M.D., does not think that this extension will be granted.  Without speaking to the merit of the request, Mostashari recently told a group gathered at the CHIME Fall Forum that the extension would take up to a year to approve, and the extension requested is a year. The overlap would through U.S. health IT into “total chaos” due to the uncertainty during the rulemaking process to amend the schedule.


A podcast discussing the benefits of a national patient identifier can be found here

Alexander-Thune Letter from 17 Senators to Secretary Kathleen Sebelius requesting a meaningful use stage 2 delay can be found here

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