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Can Patient Verification, mHealth Apps Improve Patient Matching?

A new RAND paper outlines how patients can use mHealth information to facilitate better patient matching.

patient matching

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- mHealth app information and patient verification may be the keys to solving the healthcare industry’s patient matching problem, according to a recent report from the RAND Corporation.

Patient matching is the connecting of the correct medical records with a specific patient during a data exchange. Records are often mismatched when two patients have the same name, there are changes in information, or there is a typo in information.

Inadequate patient matching can lead to potentially disastrous healthcare encounters, RAND added. Inaccurate medical information could lead to patient safety errors, delays in care, uniformed care decisions, and administrative burdens.

Current advances in patient matching are falling short, the report authors noted. One 2014 assessment from the ONC said only about 50 percent of all data exchanges are accurate. And even when patient matching processes receive significant funding and full support, most researchers agree there still won’t be 100 percent accuracy rates.

With support from Pew Charitable Trusts, the RAND researchers investigated how patient-empowered record matching solutions could upend current approaches to the problem. A patient-empowered strategy could leverage the expertise of the patient, as well as the stores of identifiable information in which the patient is already an expert.

Specifically, the RAND report listed the ideal qualities of an effective patient matching solution, including:

  • Improvement in record matching if widely implemented
  • Patient control
  • Likelihood of adoption by patients
  • Likelihood of adoption by providers
  • Likelihood of adoption by vendors
  • Feasibility (of development, pilot testing, and implementation)
  • Minimal security risks
  • Sustainability (operational and financial)
  • Political viability
  • Potential to foster new uses of matched records
  • Low potential for unintended negative consequences

Next, the researchers, led by RAND information scientist Robert S. Rudin, looked at different technology solutions that could deliver the above criteria.

Ultimately, the research team identified mHealth tools as viable options for facilitating a patient-empowered records matching strategy.

Patient mHealth apps contain troves of identifiable patient information, much of which is stored in a patient’s medical record. The RAND report proposed leveraging that patient data to verify information located in the EHR. Verifying that information could ease the eventual patient matching process, the report explained.

The key to such an approach is creating the technology governance necessary to create both patient and provider trust. If a patient or provider does not trust that the information stored in the mHealth app is useful or accurate, the eventual sync with the EHR will be fruitless.

Creating this patient matching solution is not without its challenges, the RAND researchers added. Such a solution could disrupt provider workflows, while creating the requisite technology governance could prove difficult.

Rudin and his team recommended IT experts begin by developing technical specifications for viable app information. This includes creating standards for how the information will be collected in apps and in EHRs.

Next, the team suggesting identifying APIs and other bidirectional communication tools that would allow the app to verify identifying information within the EHR.

Leaders in the patient matching movement will also need to develop benchmarks against which they can measure national progress in patient matching.

Last, industry stakeholders must conduct more research into the magnitude of patient matching errors. This will allow providers to better understand their areas of necessary improvement.

Although using mHealth information and patient verification does create one avenue for streamlining the record matching process, Rudin and his team recognize that it is not perfect.

“Tools and methods that allow an individual’s mobile phone or smartphone to be used for improving medical record matching among different health providers appear to be particularly promising for a patient-empowered approach to the problem,” Rudin said in a statement. “But these methods will require development and testing.”

“We found no silver bullet for empowering patients to improve record matching,” Rudin added. “Engaging patients in solving the problem likely requires real-world pilot testing and evaluation of an array of approaches.”

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