Congress Directs HHS to Engage on Patient Data Matching

Late last week, Congress passed a spending bill to fund the government through the end of FY17. While ONC’s funding will remain the same, there was a significant development on the patient data matching front.  Congress retained the Labor-HHS unique patient identifier prohibition, but Appropriators did include report language to accompany the legislation clarifying the prohibition and clearly directing HHS to engage with the private sector on patient data matching, including in the development of a “coordinated national strategy.”

The report language identifies “the lack of a consistent patient data matching strategy” as “one of the most significant challenges inhibiting the safe and secure electronic exchange of health information.”  It goes on to clarify that the UPI prohibition should “not prohibit HHS from examining the issues around patient matching” and encourages HHS to provide technical assistance to private-sector led initiatives to develop a coordinated national strategy for accurate patient identification and matching.

HIMSS for several years has urged Congress to address the impact of the UPI prohibition, including in our 2015 Congressional Ask: Support Robust Interoperability and Health Information Exchange. Most recently, HIMSS co-led a letter with 25 healthcare organizations urging Congress to include this report language with the FY17 spending bill. 

For additional information, please see a blog authored by HIMSS North America EVP, Carla Smith.