Accurate Patient Identification: A Critical Differentiator for Optimal COVID-19 Response

Featured in Health IT Answers

The COVID-19 pandemic will undoubtedly leave a lasting imprint on the healthcare landscape, with a heightened emphasis on technologies and data that support efficient, effective, highly coordinated care. One foundational element quickly surfaced as a key differentiator for optimal responses: the ability to match the right patient to the right record.

The far-reaching impact of subpar, inefficient patient identification processes became immediately apparent in the weeks after the COVID-19 outbreak, as public health stakeholders struggled to accurately track the disease, identify hotspots and conduct patient outreach. A recent peer-reviewed report published in npj Digital Medicine by Regenstrief Institute, Mayo Clinic and The Pew Charitable Trusts speaks directly to this challenge, suggesting that data integrity underpinning patient matching is fundamental not just to current pandemic response, but also future action for similar outbreaks.

“Much of this information comes from healthcare providers through electronic health records (EHRs), so the success of rapid identification of infected and at-risk individuals and of a large-scale vaccination effort in the U.S. will depend, in part, on how effectively the electronic health data of Americans are shared among providers, care settings, and other systems used to track the illness and immunization,” the authors note.

For the Greater Rochester Independent Practice Association (GRIPA), this type of data integrity is critical to providing its more than 1,300 physicians and affiliate hospitals with credible, actionable data. Having the right technological foundation in place proved especially beneficial amid the coronavirus epidemic when the organization needed to pivot quickly.

Understanding Real-Life Application in a Crisis
Few in the industry would deny that patient matching challenges have plagued healthcare for years, touching everything from patient safety and outcomes to quality initiatives and revenue integrity. The fact that up to half of patient records exchanged between hospitals and other care facilities are not correctly linked exacerbates the challenges of effective care coordination during a crisis like COVID-19.

For GRIPA, which covers 300,000 lives, an infrastructure built on advanced referential matching capabilities proved integral to securing swift physician alignment as a critical first step to response. Without trustworthy, actionable data, independent physician practices would be much less likely to collaborate with GRIPA in tracking patients who may have been exposed to the coronavirus, performing proactive outreach and improving stakeholder communication across communities.

Relying on an advanced master patient index that had been in place since 2019, GRIPA was able to quickly:

  • Identify patients who had been tested for COVID-19 and those who had tested positive
  • Stratify the results based on key patient identifiers—including social determinants of health—to pinpoint those who were most at risk of complications

Drawing on both patient data from GRIPA and a continually updated, highly curated reference database of identities that span the entire U.S. population, the cloud-based solution was able to make the right association in patient records immediately, strengthening the validity of data in downstream applications like the EHR or electronic lab repository (ELR).

The flexibility of the plug-and-play referential matching solution enabled GRIPA to prioritize its care management team’s outreach to connect vulnerable patients with the right services.

Embracing Best Practices for Future Positioning
During a pandemic or other public health crisis, time is of the essence. The average resource-strapped healthcare organization does not have the bandwidth to support resource-intensive, manual efforts to match patient identities to the right records. Instead, organizations need solutions that can streamline this process and provide access to the full patient picture immediately. They also require tools that instill confidence that data is accurate and will guide the most effective response.

As the industry begins to scale an effective COVID-19 vaccination strategy, statistics like those found in a recent Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy study—suggesting that up to 50 percent of COVID-19 lab reports were missing key contact information—will simply be unacceptable. The npj Digital Medicine report further underscored the importance of accurate and up-to-date patient identification going forward—specifically in state and local immunization registries—to confirm whether patients have received a vaccination and ensure patients do not receive multiple doses amid limited supplies.

While infrastructures that support accurate patient matching provide the needed foundation for data integrity, data management strategies must also extend to accuracy and completeness of information at every point of a health system and care continuum. This need speaks directly to current national efforts to advance interoperability—a priority that should be the focus of all healthcare organizations even amid the current delay in the data interoperability rule. The authors of the npj Digital Medicine report say it well when they write that “the sharing of more data and use of standards” are the greatest near-term opportunities for preparing for future pandemics.