In 2009, the HITECH Act mandated the use of electronic health records by healthcare organizations. This has given rise to unique issues in patient matching and identification, however, which reportedly result in healthcare organizations losing billions of dollars each year in malpractice claims. In New York and across the U.S., patients have suffered from medication errors, wrong site surgery and other forms of malpractice on account of these issues.
Patient matching errors form the subject of a recent letter sent to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations by a group of 33 stakeholders, including the American Medical Association and the American Health Information Management Association. The letter requests that Congress include in any appropriations bills for fiscal year 2019 language that will help end them.
For example, Congress could add that the Department of Health and Human Services, though it cannot fund the assignment of unique health identifiers, can still examine patient matching issues. Through the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, Congress could provide technical assistance with electronic data exchange and work toward a consistent patient matching strategy. The letter addresses other obstacles, such as duplicate EHRs; these can be reduced with a tool called an enterprise master patient index.
Approximately 33 percent of denied claims arose in the first place because of patient matching errors. When patients are prevented from having their condition diagnosed, they can suffer short- and long-term effects through no fault of their own. To be reimbursed for these losses, they may choose to hire a malpractice attorney and have their situation assessed. An attorney might set out to prove that there was an existing doctor-patient relationship and that the doctor failed to live up to an objective standard of care. Once the proof of malpractice is set up, the attorney may be able to negotiate for a settlement.