Better care starts with better patient identity management

Published: February 7, 2022 by Experian Health


No healthcare organization is immune to the problem of bad data. One in five patients has found errors when looking at their electronic health record (EHR). This includes incorrect information about their diagnosis, medications, test results and more. If the data held in patient records is incomplete, inconsistent, or inaccurate, this can lead to poor clinical decision-making, substandard patient experiences, and gaps in treatment or follow-up. In Experian Health’s State of Patient Access 2.0 survey, patient identity management emerged as a major challenge for healthcare providers, with almost half of the respondents saying that inaccurate and incomplete patient data hindered follow-up contacts and patient outreach. “Dirty” data also presents a major financial risk, costing healthcare organizations millions of dollars per year.

Many providers have stepped up their digital offerings in the last few years, particularly in response to the pandemic. While digitalization offers huge advantages, it does have an unfortunate side effect. As more data is created, shared and accessed, there are more opportunities for mistakes. Some industries may accept a certain amount of rogue data as inevitable, but in healthcare, it mustn’t become the norm. Patient data needs to be consistent, complete and standardized to ensure the highest standards of care.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recognizes the need for an easier and more secure exchange of healthcare data, and are taking steps to facilitate interoperability. As these provisions are finalized, providers can act now to embed data standardization in their digital services.

Better data means better decisions, better care and lower costs. As the digital transformation continues, providers must implement strategies to eliminate inaccuracies, enable consistent identity management, and ensure data is standardized across all their systems and networks. In this article, we share three steps to help your organization ensure that patient data remains complete and consistent for better patient identity management.

1. Start with the right patient data

As the saying goes: garbage in, garbage out. Reliable patient records require the right information to be added from the start, or errors will follow the patient throughout their healthcare journey. This will only continue compounding over time.

A 2021 survey of Experian Health clients revealed that incomplete data arises for a variety of reasons. This ranges from patients not filling out forms correctly prior to their visit or forgetting their insurance cards, to staff having limited time to complete documentation. Typos, misspellings, duplicate data and missing information can also cause identity errors.*

Providers should reduce the risk of inaccurate data from being added to a patient’s record in the first place. A standardized approach to data formatting is a good place to start. For example, if a patient is accustomed to writing their date of birth in a European format, with the day before the month, they may enter this incorrectly when filling out online patient access forms. Configuring calendar drop-down menus in such a way that prevents this will avoid these basic but costly errors.

With a Universal Identity Manager (UIM), each patient’s record can be maintained in a standardized format. Probabilistic and referential matching techniques are used to check the patient’s identification information against existing databases, for a more complete view of the patient regardless of any data gaps.

2. Solve patient matching challenges with robust identity verification

It doesn’t matter if patient records are accurate if staff pull up the wrong record when they speak to a patient. Providers should prioritize consistent identity management to ensure clinical and non-clinical staff see the same and correct information, regardless of where or when a patient interacts with their organization. Identity Verification validates the patient’s identification information during pre-registration and check-in by instantly accessing demographic information. This includes the patient’s name, address, Social Security number, date of birth, phone number and insurance coverage data. If there’s a mistake, it’s easily found and corrected.

3. Standardize data to maintain clean patient databases

Victoria Dames, Vice President Identity Management at Experian Health explains why standardization is so important:

“The increasing use of digital services means that more healthcare data is being exchanged within and between health systems than ever before. However, in order to leverage the opportunities that come with a more connected healthcare system, we need that data to be as reliable as possible. Preventing inaccuracies before they occur will be much more cost-effective than scrambling to fix them after the damage is done. With a standardized approach to data collection and management, healthcare organizations can maintain reliable records for every individual patient and stay ahead of the game as more data is generated and shared.”

Unique Patient Identifier (UPI) helps providers eliminate duplicate records so there’s a “single source of truth” for each patient. After the UIM matches the patient’s information within a single and accurate patient file, a UPI is assigned to that record and maintained in a master index. This is far more secure than a traditional matching algorithm based on Social Security numbers, which can be vulnerable to errors.

Together, these tools help healthcare providers create and maintain a “golden record” for each patient. Data quality will always be a challenge. However, with the right data standardization strategies, providers can make better decisions. This will create better patient experiences and better health outcomes while limiting the financial impact of dirty data.

Contact Experian Health today to find opportunities to clean up your healthcare data for better patient identity management.

*Survey of Experian Health clients, October 2021

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