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Startup is working to make unique patient identifier a reality

Many in health IT have pushed for a national patient identifier that could enable interoperability and data exchange in healthcare for a while now without much success and with much pushback from Congress. In fact, in 1999 Congress passed legislation that prohibited the Department of Health and Human Services from spending federal funds on the development of patient ID technology, with privacy concerns the main issue. Since then, language regarding this prohibition has been included in appropriation bills each year.

But a startup based in Columbus, Ohio, is trying again, according to an article in the MIT Technology Review, by making checking in for a doctor’s appointment as simple as unlocking an iPhone.

CrossChx Inc.’s identity management system simply has patients place their right index finger onto a fingerprint reader at the check-in desk of the doctor’s office and the patient’s identity is verified.

“Identity is the foundation you need to build to make portability and all these other grand ideas possible,” Sean Lane, CEO and cofounder of CrossChx, told the MIT Technology Review.

And although the United States government has spent billions of dollars trying to encourage the adoption of EHRs, the results have been that many of the supposed benefits of EHRs –interoperability included — have proved elusive, the article said. Furthermore, CrossChx found that 14% of records have serious identity errors.

Although CrossChx does not move patient medical records between providers yet, the article said that some providers are using the fingerprint ID technology—and the encryption software that comes with it—to compare records between different health systems and detect errors without the actual data being disclosed.

“Providing a unique patient ID is a very significant step forward, both medically and politically,” Niam Yaraghi, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies healthcare IT, told the MIT Technology Review. “It is an important step toward interoperability.”

Yaraghi pointed out in the story that the need for patient ID technology is now even more imperative because today hackers commonly steal patient records.

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