The Debate Over Universal Patient Identifiers

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal presented a two-sided argument around the implementation of UPIs (universal patient identifiers) in healthcare.  For those unfamiliar with the topic, if UPIs were put in place, first and last names, social security numbers, and other personal information would no longer be needed to pull a patient’s medical records.

The question posed by the WSJ was if every patient should have a unique ID number for all medical records, and the answer came down to a matter of opinion.  Those in favor of UPIs believe it will make health systems more efficient, while those opposed raise privacy concerns.  More differences in opinion on the topic are outlined below:

  • Efficient way to connect patients to their medical data
  • Facilitates information sharing
  • Gaurds against needless medical errors
  • Improves the quality of health care and lowers costs
  • Privacy issues
  • Patients could lose trust in the system
  • Makes it easier for companies to use data

A few points that were raised caught my attention, such as population growth;  according to RAND Corp., patients are misidentified at a rate of 7% – 10% during record searches.  As more men and women populate the Earth, this problem is only getting harder to solve.

Privacy advocates like Deborah C. Peel don’t doubt that the healthcare system is extremely flawed, but offer an alternative solution:

The best way to share sensitive health information is to build electronic-records systems where patients are in control of their own medical records, not government and industry. Health professionals should seek permission to see personal data, but only patients should release or link it. This is how it works with paper records systems, and there’s no reason we should be less concerned about privacy in the digital age.

Now it’s your turn: Would the implementation of UPIs improve or worsen the system?  

What do you think of UPIs for a better health system?
The implementation of UPIs would improve the health system.
The implementation of UPIs would NOT improve the health system.
Cake discusses the debate over universal patient identifiers. Join the convo!

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