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Master patient ID system not a threat to patient privacy

A reader, responding to SearchHealthIT's interview with the national coordinator for health IT, explains the need for a master patient ID system.

Editor's note: SearchHealthIT received this feedback in response to the article "National Health IT Coordinator Karen DeSalvo, M.D., in her own words." The letter has been edited for style but not for content.

I read your article "National Health IT Coordinator Karen DeSalvo, M.D., in her own words" I found when browsing searchhealthIT.techtarget.com. There were a few points that stood out in your interview with the National Coordinator for Health IT Karen DeSalvo, M.D. at HIMSS 2014. The one I would like to comment on is "On health data integrity: '[Patient matching] is a lot about patient safety as much as privacy and security. You want to know that you're using the right data when you're taking care of that person in front of you.'"

I have been in health IT for 15 years and in IT for almost 30 and have argued time and time again that we need a master patient ID, not only for patient safety, but to save millions of dollars in writing master patient indexes necessary to link disparate patient records. Legislators will argue that this is a patient privacy issue, but we are already sharing patient data using master patient indexes all over the place. We need a master patient ID with an option for individual patients to opt out. I believe most people would opt in if they understood the positive aspects of how their data will be used and what data will not be shared. The addition of one data field to the patient profile tables in each medical system would allow one-to-one matching which is much safer [than] matching on name, date of birth, etc. and it would save millions, if not billions, of dollars better spent elsewhere.

Hopefully she [DeSalvo] is pushing for this at the federal level, as this is a patient safety issue, not a privacy or security issue.

Who knows, maybe a line could be added to the federal tax forms: "Please check this box if you would like to opt out of having a master patient ID."  

The ID itself could be generated off one's unique social security number using an algorithm that creates a second unique number for each person. Just an idea!

Let us know what you think about the story; email editor@searchhealthit.com or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.

This was last published in May 2014

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