While contact tracing methods and vaccine distribution now signal a turning point in the road to recovery, these efforts are only as successful as the quality of patient data available. However, things like incomplete, missing, or duplicate patient data leave patient profiles vulnerable to error. This ultimately can disrupt or even entirely collapse the patient matching process.
Congress, Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), and other health organizations have come together to address the clear need for a unified standard around patient address and demographic data with the recent introduction of Project US@. But even that process has its confines. More must be done to develop address standardization across the healthcare industry.
By integrating address verification and geocoding technology with premium location reference data from Loqate, NextGate’s Enterprise Master Patient Index (EMPI) platform can populate demographic gaps, proactively format address data, and verify patient location information to support widespread data integrity.
Why public health requires clean address data
Since the start of the pandemic, health centers have seen significant surges in patients across the U.S. While the volume has ebbed and flowed due to lockdowns and stay-at-home orders limiting the spread of the illness, tracking and providing care to infected persons has been a trail. This challenge has only been made more difficult by the insufficient patient data being collected and shared in disparate health systems.
According to Janet Hamilton of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE), “around 40% of the patient demographic information is missing as compared to about 10% for other laboratory tests for other reportable diseases.” Inaccurate or outdated data, such as address and phone information, limit a health provider’s ability to determine who and where lab results are from, disrupt the completion and matching of customer profiles, and prevent accurate patient follow-up.
These limitations also negatively affect contract tracing and vaccine distribution, which above all else require maximum efficiency, time, and accurate patient and demographic data.
The challenges behind Project US@
Ben Moscovitch, project director for health information technology at the Pew Charitable Trusts, believes that public health workers simply “lack key information needed to effectively identify and communicate with COVID-19 positive individuals.”
To address patient matching challenges, health systems have turned to electronic health records (EHRs)—innovative, AI-powered technologies that support data standardization, streamline interoperability. However, a disconnected healthcare infrastructure and fragmented patient address data result in duplicate patient profiles, low match rates, and skewed analytics & reporting. The ONC has set out to correct this course with Project US@.
Last November, Senator Maggie Hassan petitioned the ONC to develop policies for standardized address data. Project US@ was formally launched in early 2021 to help health officials and experts establish a universal criterion for patient address data to improve interoperability. Through this initiative, the ONC, Health Level 7, X12, and the National Council for Prescription Drug Programs will collaborate to create one set standard for address data entry and formatting across health systems.
Project US@ also works in conjunction with the Patient Matching Improvement Act. This bill, drafted by Sens. Maggie Hassan and Dr. Bill Cassidy in August 2020, calls on the United States Postal Service to make their address-formatting tools – used by online retailers to ensure delivery accuracy – available for use by health providers. The use of USPS’ address data and formatting standards could accelerate vaccination efforts by enabling thousands of additional correct patients matches per day.
“An organization with a match rate of 85%, for example, could see its unlinked records reduced by 20% with standardization of address alone,” says Moscovitch.
But, as health officials work to fight against this pandemic, there are two weaknesses to note – EHRs limited ability to aggregate demographic data and the unreliability of USPS data.
Supporting data integrity & enhanced patient matching
EHRs are unequipped to capture the data elements necessary to provide a complete picture of the pandemic. This strongly limits the effectiveness of patient profile verification and matching, especially considering there are very few vendors who can give a 100% accurate address matching rate – including USPS.
USPS address-formatting tools use the Postal Service’s database to search, verify, and format addresses. However, this database has generally been plagued by address errors due to inconsistent updates and misconducted street reviews.
As an alternative, NextGate’s EMPI, powered by location data and geocoding, can significantly assist in patient matching and reduce duplicate records by validating information such as diagnosis, past medications, medical tests, and the names of primary care doctors and specialists.
By integrating our address verification technology, NextGate’s EMPI platform can utilize our reference data to fill in demographic gaps and verify patient information at the point of capture, including the spelling of names or current and former addresses.
With a global data set built by curating multiple reference data sources and unique geospatial reference datasets, including USPS address data, we’ve created a single-best-record of address data. This eliminates the reliability and standardization issues experienced when depending solely on the USPS database.
As health professionals continue their contact tracing and vaccine distribution efforts across the U.S., the importance of ensuring that patient demographic data is accurately captured, formatted, and shared across EHRs, EMPIs, and other health systems will only continue to rise.