Healthcare Group Tries ‘We the People’ Approach to Draw Attention to Issue

The American Health Information Management Association this week launched a new campaign designed to get people talking about an issue the association believes could help improve healthcare: the use of voluntary personal identifiers for patients. The group is using President Obama's petition site to make its case.

During President Barack Obama’s time in office, “We the People” petitions have been used for all sorts of topics—including goofy things, such as a Death Star, and more serious asks, such as a push for updated gun-control laws in the wake of the Newtown shootings.

The latest ask isn’t as buzzy as either of those things, but it has the potential to change the healthcare system for the better.

This week, the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) pushed forth a petition to allow for the creation of a voluntary patient-safety identifier—something that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is currently banned from doing. As of this writing, the petition has just over 1,500 signatures, but the association is aiming big and hopes to top 100,000 by the end of the campaign on April 19.

AHIMA emphasizes that its goal with the campaign is to give some fresh attention to an issue that fell off the radar more than 15 years ago, according to Vice President of Policy and Government Relations Pamela Lane.

“That was way back in the original draft language of HIPAA. It had language specific to unique patient identifiers,” Lane told HealthLeaders Media this week. “Back in the day there was a lot of concern about big government spying on people. So, when the final language came out, they’d taken the references to patient identifiers out. To keep it from getting added back in, there was language put into the appropriations bill in 1999 that said that HHS could not use any of their resources on patient identifiers. They can talk about the problem, but they can’t talk about the solutions.”

In a video supporting the campaign, AHIMA emphasizes that by avoiding patient identifiers, the healthcare industry could find itself running into errors such as mismatched or incorrect data.

AHIMA CEO Lynne Thomas Gordon, in a statement to HealthCare IT News, called the situation “a dangerous and costly problem that can lead to missed diagnoses, inappropriate treatments or unnecessary tests, as well as making it difficult for providers to exchange health information.”

Gordon emphasized that the healthcare sector should look for help from other industries, but the final result should ultimately be put into the hands of patients.

“The voluntary patient safety identifier—created and controlled by patients—will be a complete and positive game-changer in healthcare in terms of patient safety, quality of care and financial consequences,” she added.

If you’re interested in adding your signature, you can find the association’s “We the People” petition here.

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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