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When it was first conceived, an ambitious project to find a technology answer to one of health IT's most vexing problems, national patient ID, was introduced with fanfare as a crowdfunded endeavor.
The undertaking was launched in January 2016 by the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), which chose the HeroX platform for a global crowdsourcing campaign that was to raise $1 million and crown a winning patient ID technology developer 13 months later.
The issue has drawn a lot of attention because of the health IT industry's consensus that a unique patient ID would dramatically improve patient safety. However, Congress has perennially blocked any regulation to promote national patient ID.
Even so, the project appears to have wide support in health IT, but some critics as well.
The health IT CIO group said it has always been prepared to self-finance the national patient ID prize, drawing on membership donations, major gifts and grants and reserve funds -- as well as any contributions from members.
"The CHIME board of trustees from the very beginning saw this as important enough to our members and to the industry, that if it was necessary, the CHIME organization would fully fund the million-dollar prize," said Keith Fraidenburg, CHIME executive vice president and COO. "It was guaranteed at the start."
So far, however, the HeroX page hasn't drawn any contributions, whether from individuals, CHIME healthcare organization provider members or CIOs or member companies, Fraidenburg acknowledged.
Keith Fraidenburgexecutive vice president and COO, CHIME
"The funds are available," Fraidenburg said. "That being said, we are in active discussions with potential sponsors. We're in the final stage of the challenge. We're getting close, and that's very exciting for potential sponsors."
Fraidenburg said the newly created CHIME Healthcare Innovation Trust is technically sponsoring the contest and will be the vehicle for funding the cash prize.
The nonprofit organization had revenues of $6.7 million and expenses of $6.4 million in 2015, according to CHIME's most recent public tax filing. The group also had net assets of $7.8 million that year, according to its IRS Form 990 filing.
Vendor bemoans biometric proposals
Not everyone in health IT is supportive of the CHIME challenge.
Perhaps surprisingly, Andy Aroditis, founder and CEO of NextGate, a patient matching software vendor, is a critic.
"Instead they try to do these gimmicks," Aroditis said. "I don't even know if the CIOs and vendors who are paying in all these contributions to CHIME know where their money is going."
Aroditis also noted that three of the four finalists' proposals are based on biometric technology. That approach doesn't appear fully suited to the objective of creating a national patient ID system because all healthcare organizations would need to be equipped with biometric software and, in many cases, hardware.
The fourth finalist's submission is built around blockchain, a still largely speculative technology.
Fraidenburg responded to one of Aroditis' arguments by noting that CHIME is focused on a national patient identification system rather than what he said was the narrower focus of patient matching technology available from vendors today.
"I can understand the distinction between a patient ID and patient matching, but yes, they are certainly related and go hand in hand," Aroditis said.
Two CIOs approve CHIME's approach
In contrast to Aroditis' view, two noted health IT CIOs who are CHIME members praised the project.
"What CHIME is doing is actually extraordinary," said John Halamka, M.D., CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. "It's bringing together in a very open and transparent way a variety of stakeholders to look at policy and technology options."
"It's the best example of how you accelerate in the industry," Halamka added.
David Chou, vice president and chief information and digital officer at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., said the patient ID challenge is appropriate for CHIME because the group's members are health IT leaders working toward interoperability.
"I commend CHIME for taking the initiative," Chou said. "It is needed to have a unique patient identifier, and we have been struggling for a long time to make this happen."
Meanwhile, CHIME officials said the process of picking a winner from four finalists could stretch past the November 2017 deadline.
In May, CHIME chose four finalists from among 113 submissions. The group hopes to have a winner by the time of its annual fall conference in San Antonio in November, but the competition is in the prototype testing stage now, Fraidenburg said.
Even after a winner emerges, there will likely still be much work left to do to truly bring about a national patient ID system, Fraidenburg said.
"Let's say we are able to announce a winning solution this November," Fraidenburg said. "In order to move that solution with scalability, adoption, there's a long way to go yet.
"This is a very complicated issue," he said.
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