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The Fight for a Unique Patient Identifier Continues

CHICAGO – February 18, 2020 – A mix-up in a New Jersey hospital resulted in an organ transplant patient receiving a kidney intended for someone else. Six days later, the patient who was supposed to receive that kidney received another one. Although both patients reportedly recovered, experts say that it often takes a sentinel patient safety event for some providers to wake up to the dangers of patient misidentification.

In the article Who Are You? The Quest for a Unique Patient Identifier, in the February 2020 digital issue of the Journal of AHIMA, Mary Butler examines the national crisis and AHIMA’s advocacy efforts in support of a unique patient identifier (UPI), including efforts to repeal the ban preventing federal dollars from being used toward a UPI.

While the language prohibiting funding for a UPI remains in the current Labor-HHS Appropriations bill, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT is required to issue a report within one year to evaluate the effectiveness of current patient matching methods along with recommended actions to increase the likelihood of accurate matching.

While experts say that UPI is not a silver bullet, AHIMA and its partners in advocacy believe that UPI should be a part of the national conversation.

 Butler makes a distinction between patient matching and patient identification, noting that they are often used interchangeably, but refer to different processes. Matching involves leveraging demographic data elements, while patient identification is the process of correctly matching a patient and communicating information about a patient’s identity accurately throughout the continuum of care.

“Accurately identifying and matching patients to their health information records is a critical step in the healthcare process and key to producing better outcomes,” said AHIMA CEO Wylecia Wiggs Harris, PhD, CAE. “A unique patient identifier can lead to increased accuracy and greater safety for patients.”

The February 2020 issue of the Journal of AHIMA is the first digital-only edition of the monthly award-winning publication, which includes a revamped user-friendly interface with interactive quizzes and increased engagement opportunities.


AHIMA is a global nonprofit association of health information (HI) professionals. AHIMA represents professionals who work with health data for more than one billion patient visits each year. AHIMA’s mission of empowering people to impact health drives our members and credentialed HI professionals to ensure that health information is accurate, complete, and available to patients and providers. Our leaders work at the intersection of healthcare, technology, and business, and are found in data integrity and information privacy job functions worldwide.

Looking to interview an AHIMA expert about this topic?

Contact Mike Bittner

May 1, 2020

Five Trends in Patient Matching for 2020

Increased focus on patient identification and matching challenges and the downstream effects on outcomes and cost.

Read full article at Journal of AHIMA

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