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100% of the U.S. population now has a Universal Patient Identifier: Q&A with Experian Health leader on why this matters

At the end of 2019, Experian Health announced that every person in the U.S. population, an estimated 328 million Americans, had successfully been assigned a unique Universal Patient Identifier, powered by Experian Health Universal Identity Manager (UIM) and NCPDP Standards™ (the “UPI”). Universal Patient Identifiers (UPIs), created with a comprehensive view of patients from health, credit header, and consumer data sources, are thought to significantly reduce the challenges that stem from the misidentification of patients which span patient safety, financial, and operational inefficiencies.

But what does 100% coverage mean? And what does this mean for the future of healthcare?

To take a deeper dive, we sat down with Victoria Dames, an Experian Health leader in the identity management space to learn more.

1. It doesn’t get more perfect than 100%, so tell us more. What exactly does 100% coverage mean?

Experian Health developed an algorithmic engine known as our Universal Identity Manager about five years ago. Since this time, we’ve worked closely with many providers, pharmacies and payers to help address their duplicate records. We’ve been monitoring our adoption and enumeration by unique patient identifiers against 328M individuals in the US population (2010 Census) and achieved this milestone at the end of 2019. Through our broad network of provider clients, which include hospitals, pharmacies, payers, and healthcare technology companies, patients who have received care from participating entities over the past few years have been enumerated. As new patients enter the healthcare ecosystem, this number will continue to grow.

2. Why are universal patient identifiers (UPIs) needed and how do they benefit providers and patients?

The Universal Patient Identifier (UPI) helps providers link the right records together, preventing duplicate records from being created. For example, think of all the ways duplicate accounts or variances can occur: address differences, name variations (Katherine, Kathryn, Kathy, Kat), maiden names and potential user entry error. With the UPIs, providers can link records together and have one complete record and view of the patient, ultimately leading to a better patient experience. It’s important to note that the UPI is not something the patient knows or sees, but rather part of the technology. It can be embedded within a hospital’s information system, for example. It simply links a patient’s records together, so a provider has a complete view of the patient’s identity. The flow of communication happens when participating healthcare organizations send Experian Health patient demographic information; the system provides the organization in return with the insights and identifiers that they need to better manage patient identities and prevent duplicate records. The UPI can be attached – if the situational requirement is met – to active claims in real-time transactions effectively improving the integrity of patient records. During this process Experian Health does not rely on or use any clinical information about the patient; Experian Health only leverages the minimum data elements needed to successfully match an identity.

3. How did you get numbers assigned to all Americans?

When a healthcare organization enlists our help, we process all their historical records through the UIM, returning a Universal Patient Identifier (UPI). The initial run of this data helps resolve existing duplicates which can date back several years. Working with multiple providers and pharmacies, we were able to get numbers assigned to all Americans. The number will continue to evolve of course, as the population changes with births and deaths.

4. Are there privacy risks with this?

Experian Health is a HIPAA-compliant Business Associate when it receives PHI from customers. It takes its privacy obligations very seriously. As to UIM, privacy risks are minimized by the fact that the UIM does not leverage any medical records, prescription histories, or provider systems. The purpose of the solution is to assist healthcare professionals to better match an individual’s identity through data assets that would normally be unavailable to a healthcare provider.

5. Does a UPI function similar to a credit report, meaning it provides a singular view of a patient’s medical history?

It depends on the situation. If a provider has a patient in their EHR twice under two spellings of the patient’s name in error, then yes, the UPI would link those two profiles, creating a singular view of the patient in that provider’s system. Additionally, the UPI generated by Experian Health is designed to help facilitate interoperability between healthcare providers. For example, if your pharmacy has you listed under your maiden name of Smith and your doctor has your married name of Wilson, during the ePrescribing process, your ePrescription might not get associated with your prescription profile. If both providers have the UPI on record and submit it during the transaction, the systems will match the patient using the UPI. It’s important to note that the UPI is technology for entities and is not patient facing.

6. What is the direct benefit to consumers; will it help them control their medical data?

Consumers will benefit depending on how a provider implements and utilizes the UPI. For instance, if a provider has two medical records, and they merge this into one record, the patient will see one consolidated record. Imagine two patient profiles for the same individual at a pharmacy. One prescription is filled under each profile and the two separate prescriptions, if taken together, could lead to a severe reaction. If filled under two different profiles, the automated process to screen for drug interactions would not identify this harmful reaction. But the UPI directly solves for this issue.

7. What are the next steps and goals for Experian Health as it pertains to UIM?

Our goal is to continue to partner with healthcare organizations to help prevent and resolve their duplicate records. We are continuing to invest in our technology and capabilities within identity, as we care deeply about patient safety and data integrity. Having a single, unified and accurate view of the patient is a challenge that plagues the healthcare system, and now we have a comprehensive solution that reduces the barriers to make healthcare safer.