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Unique Patient Identifier Technology Reduces Medical Errors

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

A recent RAND study that found the creation of unique patient identifiers could reduce medical errors, simplify electronic transactions, increase efficiency and improve patient confidence "serves as a timely reminder that smarter use of already available technologies can reap benefits and save money even in lean times," a Houston Chronicle editorial states.

According to the editorial, UPI systems work by using a product bar code for each individual patient that limits the risk of privacy breach inherent in the current practice of statistical matching, in which providers retrieve records by flagging identifiers such as name, address, birth date and Social Security numbers. The editorial notes that the RAND study found that the one-time cost of $1.5 billion to $11.1 billion to implement UPI systems "is small ... compared with the potential savings" of $77 billion annually when the adoption rate of UPI reaches 90%.

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The editorial notes that although the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act mandated UPI systems, concerns "in a post-9/11 climate where worries over security issues, identity fraud and the vulnerabilities of computer data have intensified" have stalled development. According to the editorial, people seeking medical care "who fear intrusions on their privacy and those who would welcome better access to their records should be encouraged by the study."

According to the editorial, the RAND study is "all the more encouraging" in light of a Commonwealth Fund analysis that found that although the U.S. spends twice as much per capita on health care than other developed nations, it ranks last among developed countries in quality, access and efficiency. The editorial concludes, "With the most expensive health care in the world, Americans should be getting more bang for their buck" (Houston Chronicle, 10/22).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.