HIMSS Pushes For National Patient Identifier System

Well, here’s some trade organization efforts that aren’t just a lot of smoke and mirrors and self-interest. Apparently, HIMSS is pushing Congress hard to establish a national patient identifier system usable for sharing digital records between facilities.

HIMSS execs estimate that as many as 14 percent of all medical records include wrong, potentially dangerous information due to patient misidentification, a problem which is likely to get worse as more systems transition data from paper to EMRs, according to a story in InformationWeek magazine.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, HIMSS says, when organizations begin to share data under Meaningful Use Stage 2, the problem is likely to get much worse. (And doesn’t a system that makes mismatches and lost data likely more or less completely defeat the purpose of setting up HIEs in the first place?)

In reality, a single patient identifier won’t do the job on its own. In fact, it could contribute to errors of its own, HIMSS notes, so adding biometrics and probabilistic matching records will be necessary to really get things right. But getting moving on the identifier is a start.

To get things standardized, HIMSS would like to see Congress request a report from the Government Accountability Office on the subject to help legislators better understand the issues. (They got so far as getting the House to file a resolution in support of the concept last year, but no further.)  HIMSS has since been working with other associations, think tanks, CMS and ONC to raise awareness of the issue.

To get what it wants, HIMSS will have to convince Congress to change existing law, reports InformationWeek. Since 1999, it’s been illegal to establish such an identifier, as Congress apparently felt the public would view it as a privacy risk.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.


  • This is already a part of HIPAA that was never implemented. I think it would be a stellar way to move forward with the development of a national patient record system and make it easier to match patients across systems rather than matching on 5-6 different pieces of data.

    You can no longer require an SSN for healthcare services and it makes no sense that your patient identifier number changes when you change insurance companies, docotrs and health systems. After all, I am the same patient. My insurance changed, not me!

    However, I am concerned that we are too paranoid, as a country, to allow this easily to happen as there are many who will howl and scream about a government conspiracy. I wish we had the political will to do the correct thing but, unless something changes soon, which seems unlikely, short of Spiritual Evolution, I do not think that we, as a country, have what it takes to get it done.

  • Heidi,
    I think your analysis is right. It’s sad that we can’t get our stuff together and solve this problem. In fact, it’s illegal to do it. Crazy stuff!

  • This nation is not in need of a “spiritual evolution”, we need to understand what is truly going on. The system of the beast is working to enslave the people to its ways, and thus making it more difficult to live apart from it. No number (mark), no service. “I’m sorry, but we can’t help you because you’re not in our computer, therfore you must be a convitct, thief, or a ‘terrorist’.”

    Take heed what you wish for, or whom you worship.

    Rev 13:7-18
    (7) And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and there was given to him authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation.
    (8) And all that dwell on the earth shall worship him, every one whose name hath not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that hath been slain.
    (9) If any man hath an ear, let him hear.
    (10) If any man is for captivity, into captivity he goeth: if any man shall kill with the sword, with the sword must he be killed. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.
    (11) And I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like unto a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.
    (12) And he exerciseth all the authority of the first beast in his sight. And he maketh the earth and them dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose death-stroke was healed.
    (13) And he doeth great signs, that he should even make fire to come down out of heaven upon the earth in the sight of men.
    (14) And he deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by reason of the signs which it was given him to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast who hath the stroke of the sword and lived.
    (15) And it was given unto him to give breath to it, even to the image to the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as should not worship the image of the beast should be killed.
    (16) And he causeth all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond, that there be given them a mark on their right hand, or upon their forehead;
    (17) and that no man should be able to buy or to sell, save he that hath the mark, even the name of the beast or the number of his name.
    (18) Here is wisdom. He that hath understanding, let him count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man: and his number is Six hundred and sixty and six.

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