Patient identification: Improving Errors While Saving Lives And Money

American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) Patient ID Day will be held on Wednesday, March 24th, 2021. Join AHIMA on that day as HIM members reach out to Members of Congress asking them to support a national strategy around patient identification and to repeal Section 510 in the Labor-HHS appropriations bill. 

What exactly is patient identification? Patient identification is the process of “correctly matching a patient to appropriately intended interventions and communicating information about the patient’s identity accurately and reliably throughout the continuum of care.”

Mismatches between patients and their clinical data is a severe patient safety issue. Patients often don’t even know about this issue or about how unreliable medical records can be, as they assume their medical records will deliver their actual medical information.

Patient matching problems often begin at the front end of the patient onboarding process. Incorrect identification at registration is a typical cause.


Duplicate medical records are a common data quality issue with direct consequences for compromising patient safety, medical care, data accuracy, and reimbursement. Duplicate medical records are defined as “two or more health record numbers assigned for a single patient at the same healthcare facility.” This error is usually created at registration in healthcare organizations’ admissions/registration departments—the patient identification process at the time of admission/encounter and duplicate records wreak havoc on data quality.


Accurate patient identification is highly important for improved patient safety and improved efficiency opportunities for healthcare providers—as well as enhanced interoperability. Patient misidentification results in enormous costs to hospitals, health systems, physician practices, and long-term/post-acute care facilities. “On average, 35 percent of all denied claims result directly from inaccurate patient identification or inaccurate/incomplete patient information, costing the average healthcare facility $1.2M per year.”

Having a national strategy around patient identification will ensure the right information is shared, especially in light of the new information blocking rules that make it easier for patients to get access to their health information as well as health information exchange.

The pandemic is highlighting the urgent need for accurate and timely health and patient data to ensure patient safety.

“For nearly twenty years, section 510 of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) appropriations bill within the federal budget has banned the use of federal funding to allow the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to create or adopt a unique patient identifier.”


AHIMA needs your help to reach out to your Members of Congress and urge them to remove section 510 from the FY2021 Labor-HHS appropriations bill to empower HHS to work with the industry to advance a nationwide patient identification strategy.


Doctors and nurses can only provide effective care if they know the correct treatment to provide. A national patient identification strategy would severely reduce the number of patients who are assigned duplicate or inaccurate medical records. Properly matching patients and their data not only improves the quality of care but saves money. And most important, it saves lives.


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