A Health Care Identifier for Each Patient

Testing a system of establishing voluntary patient identification across multiple health care records to improve outcomes and reduce costs

    • April 9, 2014

Dates of Project: Mid-April 2011 through July 2013

Researchers at Western Health Information Network, along with an independent evaluation team at Durkin & Assoc., demonstrated the technical feasibility of using a voluntary universal health care identifier card to link each person with their health record.

Description: The Western Health Information Network team trained staff at one health care provider organization to issue voluntary universal healthcare identifier numbers to patients, and then tracked adoption and use of the identifier cards. They also assessed the perceptions of clinic staff who registered patients for the card, as well as the perceptions of the patients themselves. Evaluators Stacie Durkin, RN, MBA, of Durkin & Associates, worked with Stephen M. Davidson, PhD, of the Boston University School of Management, to harvest key lessons from the project.

Evaluation Findings

  • Due to financial difficulties faced by Western Health Information Network and technical and communications obstacles among participating organizations, only 250 patients receiving the voluntary identifier cards from one issuing clinic, instead of the planned 1,000 patients at multiple clinics.

  • Evaluators concluded that a voluntary identifier card can be implemented, provided that participating clinical organizations have functioning electronic health records with the capacity to incorporate it, and belong to the same health information exchange, accountable care organization, or other multi-provider arrangement.

  • Evaluators wrote that distrust among the competing health care organizations participating in the project—based on the fear of losing patients or clients—must be overcome for project success. Strong evidence that identifier cards can yield cost savings and quality improvements might overcome provider distrust or reluctance to participate fully, in particular. However, at this point (early 2014) no such evidence exists.

“Although [the project] did not unfold as anticipated..., it was useful in that it permitted the identification of issues and challenges that will need to be confronted and overcome when similar projects are attempted in the future.”—Evaluation Report to RWJF