Patient Matching Problems: Are You Sure You Have The Right EHR?

Patient Matching Problems: Are You Sure You Have The Right EHR?

Remember paper files? Every note, every form, every transaction was printed out on paper and stuffed into a file with your patient’s name across the top. 

If a patient wanted a copy, or you referred them to a specialist, it meant pulling out the file, making copies, and sending them to the appropriate place. 

That may have worked well for some. But occasionally the Mary Johnsons and John Smiths of your practice wound up being switched around. The wrong file was pulled, the incorrect paperwork was copied, and errors were made. It was difficult keeping track of where paperwork was, especially when files could easily be on different desks at different times. 

A lot has changed in the past few years. Thanks to EHR mandates, paper files are a thing of the past. Now if you need access to a file, you simply login and gain access from any authorized digital device in the workspace. 

And while that seems like an easy fix to a decades-old problem, it hasn’t completely wiped out the potential of pulling the wrong patient data. Many practices still have multiple patients with the same name. 

Pew Charitable Trusts recently conducted focus groups across the US to gather feedback on firming up security. The majority of the participants in the study were unaware of problems with patient matching, but understood the issues based on personal experiences. With just a little information, the majority quickly supported the use of unique identifiers to improve EHR security.

People want ease. They want user-friendly systems. They want to walk into a medical facility and feel important in the eyes of the medical staff treating them. 

But above all, they want to feel secure in the knowledge that they are receiving the right treatment. And incorporating unique identifiers into patient records is the best way to do that. 

What do people prefer? 

At the top of this list is biometrics. Biometrics is the easiest way to identify anyone. If a patient arrives unconscious, they can still be identified. If they can’t speak or have memory problems, identification isn’t a problem. It only takes a fingerprint or a retina scan to ensure who a person is. 

Of course, other forms of security could be added to the mix. Smart cards could contain patient data and be easy to share when moving between facilities. They’re also easy to steal or lose. 

Smart apps are a little more secure in that they stay on a person’s phone. People are very protective of their phones, so on the surface, it seems like a safer solution. But there’s always the possibility of being hacked. Or losing your phone. 

Numeric identifiers and passwords can work, but they are also the easiest to forget and the easiest to hack. They can work in conjunction with other unique identifiers, as long as a backup strategy for theft and forgetting passwords is in place. 

What’s your choice of security? How are you incorporating unique identifiers into your practice to avoid patient identification problems? If you don’t have a system in place, isn’t about time you do?

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