How data standardization can improve patient outcomes

Published: August 25, 2021 by Experian Health

Patchy patient data has plagued the healthcare industry for decades, but the pandemic opened the door to a whole new set of identity management challenges. As patients rushed to register for patient portals and book vaccines, many unwittingly created multiple accounts, having forgotten they’d already signed up. Fluctuating unemployment levels meant many individuals were forced to jump health plans, which meant their records were moved between various organizations. As a result, data errors crept in, and identity updates were omitted.

Incomplete and inaccurate patient identification data leads to suboptimal clinical decision-making, poor patient experiences, and higher costs for patients and providers. A 2020 study found that one in five patients had spotted an error in their electronic health record (EHR). Many clinicians have also witnessed medical errors that stem from patient misidentification. Hospitals lose millions of dollars every year in denied claims arising from identity errors, which can easily be avoided with a standardized approach to identity management.

In a recent survey conducted by Experian Health, we found that identity management emerged as a major challenge for healthcare providers. Almost half of the respondents said that having inaccurate and incomplete patient data hindered follow-up contacts and patient outreach. It matters to patients too – a 2020 survey for the Pew Charitable Trusts found that four in ten were more supportive of data-sharing efforts among providers because of the pandemic, and twice as many were open to the idea of biometric identity verification.

“Patients still welcome proactive outreach by providers, but more say their providers fail to do this, and 45% of providers say inaccurate or incomplete patient data gets in the way.”

– Experian Health’s State of Patient Access, June 2021

Providers know that a 360-view of their patients is essential for improving patient outcomes and delivering positive patient experiences; however, duplicate and incomplete data continues to thwart their efforts. With a unique patient identifier (UPI) and a robust identity verification solution, providers can achieve single, accurate, and current records, and solve for these data standardization challenges.

Data standardization creates a single source of truth for each patient

Despite bipartisan recognition of the need for a national standard for patient identities, statutory barriers have hampered the adoption of a nationwide UPI. In the absence of a national approach, providers must take the lead to ensure high-quality patient records and prevent duplication, gaps and errors.

The first step towards data standardization is identifying the type of patient information your organization needs.

  • What data must be collected from patients?
  • Which form fields are required and which are optional?
  • How should data fields be formatted when updating patient records?

Standardizing data collection and ensuring content and format consistency will help create reliable records for every individual patient.

Next, a Universal Identity Manager (UIM) can hold and protect that single view of each patient, creating a standardized approach when new data is added. The software assigns a unique identifier to each patient, which follows them throughout their entire healthcare journey. By drawing on referential and probabilistic matching techniques with Experian data and patient rosters, the UIM uses the unique identifier to accurately match the patient’s identification and medical history, to help both clinical and non-clinical staff offer optimal care and support.

Confirming the patient is who they say they are

Having an accurate picture of each patient is only the first step. Next, providers must feel confident that each record can be correctly matched to the individual who is trying to log on to the portal or sitting in the waiting room. A complete and current record is useless if clinicians are matching it to the wrong person.

To solve patient matching challenges, most healthcare organizations assign employees or contractors to fix and clean up data records. Without a software-driven identity management engine, these teams are forced to rely on manual processes, which are time-consuming, costly, and still vulnerable to errors.

Alongside the consistent approach to content and format mentioned above, providers should have a reliable way of checking and amending the patient’s records at every touchpoint in the healthcare journey, using cutting-edge identity proofing techniques, risk-based authentication, and knowledge-based questions.

A tool like Identity Verification can easily identify every patient and help maintain a clean and accurate patient database. Each patient’s demographic data can be validated and corrected during pre-registration, so providers know that the person is who they say there. This is even more crucial as the pandemic leads more patients to opt for remote and virtual services alongside in-person care.

Future-proofing patient identities as the pandemic prompts long-term change

Since March 2020, many Americans have gone through major life changes. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one or loss of a job, a change of address or a change in attitude towards their health, patients’ lives are changing. The healthcare system must adapt to follow suit. Many more players are involved in delivering healthcare, with digital apps and tools growing in popularity. These developments mean more patient data is being generated and shared, and by more diverse and distributed sources.

A robust identity verification system built on standardized data can help smooth out the bumps in patient records and offer better patient experiences and improved health outcomes.

Providers don’t need to completely overhaul their records system, but by investing in incremental changes to improve the quality and governance of their data, they can accelerate the move towards data standardization. Talk to Experian Health about how our proven tools can help your organization deliver better patient data quality today, and build a universal identity management system fit for the future.

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