The continued importance of patient identification during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is placing an enormous burden and stress on our entire healthcare system -- from strained ICUs and a lack of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) to grossly inadequate testing and inaccurate reporting systems. In light of a global pandemic that has impacted more than 7.16 million and caused 205,000 deaths as of September 30 in the U.S. alone, patient identification may not seem like a pressing issue. In reality, the pandemic has demonstrated just how important it is. The lack of patient identifier data such as phone numbers, addresses, and other critical contact information caused significant delays in notifying patients who tested positive and trace contacts, thwarting the ability to control spread of the disease. While some health tech companies didn’t step up to this challenge, others offered pro-bono technical expertise to help providers on the front lines.

Patient identification issues prior to COVID-19

In busy healthcare facilities, the patient ID process at registration can be cumbersome and challenging, resulting in unintended duplicate medical records and overlays due to typing errors or miscommunication. Patient identification errors directly threaten patient safety, are time-consuming to correct, and can negatively impact a hospital’s bottom line. In fact, the lack of an effective patient identifier has been plaguing U.S. healthcare since use of a national unique patient identifier (UPI) was banned in 1998.

  • A 2014 report from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology revealed that seven out of every 100 patient records were mismatched. But the error rate was typically closer to 10–20% within a healthcare entity, and this rose to 50–60% when there was an exchange of information between two entities.
  • The 2016 National Patient Misidentification Report found that 86% of all respondents witnessed a medical error as the direct result of misidentification, 35% of all denied claims were due to misidentification, and this could cost hospitals as much as $1.2 million a year.
  • A 2018 survey from Black Book Market Research revealed that an average of 18% of patient records within organizations were duplicates; a figure consistent with other reports.
  • In 2018, PEW reported that healthcare facilities failed to link records for the same patient as often as 50% of the time.
  • Patient matching is a crucial issue for underserved communities. Black patients comprise 13% of the patient population and 21% of duplicates; Hispanic patients comprise up to 21% of the population and 35% of duplicates; and homeless people account for up to 4.3% of the population and 12% of duplicates.

Lessons learned from the pandemic

While patient identity and matching problems aren’t a new issue facing healthcare delivery organizations (HDOs), the pandemic raised red flags about unaddressed and serious issues. As we learned from this outbreak, readiness for the unexpected is critical. The failure to accurately identify patients has many repercussions. Moreover, during a pandemic, mismatched patient records can hamper public health efforts to respond to the coronavirus and address health inequities.

  • In the state of Washington, some patients that tested positive couldn’t be located to ensure they were getting treatment
  • About 40% of patient demographics were missing from commercial laboratory COVID-19 tests versus 10% for other reportable diseases

Touchless patient identification for the COVID era

Ensuring positive patient identification has always been important, and the data above point to issues that existed prior to a global pandemic. But now, in healthcare settings that are contending with the coronavirus, ensuring that patients are positively identified -- and identified safely and securely -- has never been more important.

Healthcare organizations trust Imprivata PatientSecure, the market-leading biometric palm vein authentication solution, to ensure clinicians have access to patients’ correct medical records, while giving patients confidence in the safety of their medical care and the security of their medical information.

During a pandemic, as before, patients demand a safe and streamlined experience in physical locations. And now, that means limiting physical contact as much as possible. That’s why Imprivata recently announced a next-generation palm scanner that enables touchless patient identification that continues to support the patient identification workflows HDOs have come to rely on while limiting the risk of transmission.

Best practices and solutions during COVID and beyond

When a viable vaccine is available, large-scale immunization programs will rely on accurate patient information to determine who was infected and already vaccinated, as well as track patient outcomes. Many of the following solutions were already implemented during COVID, while others are recommended.

  • Share mobile devices securely in inpatient and outpatient settings to improve quality of care and the patient experience
  • Implement solutions that capture valuable data about when and by whom patients were checked in to the hospital or healthcare organization
  • Provide healthcare providers with remote access via personal devices so they can work outside of the four walls of the hospital, and patients with access to virtual care via mobile devices
  • Leverage telehealth for nonemergent care to enable companies to lower costs and adjust to new regulations

Prior to the pandemic, Imprivata partnered with HDOs across the globe to streamline and secure workflows. And this approach didn't change during the pandemic. Imprivata continued to work with HDOs to build and support workflows to mitigate risk and manage response, with robust solutions targeted at:

  • Reducing the risk of spreading infectious disease with no-touch workflows
  • Enabling a seamless experience for new and remote clinical workflows
  • Supporting low-touch, remote implementation and managed services
  • Improving security and maintaining compliance by adapting digital identity strategies and solutions

The pandemic has caused unfathomable pain and grief for our nation and the world. Addressing pain points in patient identity management, access, authentication, and identity governance will enable providers to make the best possible decisions for their patients, and help this country emerge stronger once this health crisis is behind us. Imprivata digital identity solutions enhance workflows and allow technology to function in a way that transforms healthcare.