New ONC initiative aims to standardize patient address formats

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology will launch an initiative next year to identify a consistent way to represent patient addresses across healthcare transactions and services. The overall aim is to improve efforts to correctly match patients with their health data.

Accurate patient matching is key for ensuring the success of healthcare data exchange. Patient matching refers to linking electronic health data with the correct patient within and across health systems. Patient matching errors can lead to an array of problems, including patient safety issues, delays in care and an increase in healthcare costs, according to a Pew article.

Standardizing the way patient addresses are represented across the U.S. healthcare system can support patient matching efforts, Steven Posnack, deputy national coordinator for health information technology, indicates in a blog post.

“…as mundane as address may seem it is often one of the key elements used for the purposes of patient matching and linking records, though other data like email and cell phone number are gaining in their use,” he wrote.

In 2021, the ONC will launch its new initiative, Project US@, in collaboration with standards development organizations — including the National Council for Prescription Drug Programs, X12 and Health Level 7 — and members of the Health Standards Collaborative.

The project is mainly focused on giving health IT developers instructions on how to consistently represent patient addresses for data exchange, an ONC spokesperson said in an email.

“The resulting specification will work behind the scenes in the software [healthcare providers] use,” the spokesperson said. “Put simply, once the work is done and integrated into health IT software, a patient’s address will be consistently formatted no matter the use case or system that is generating the output file.”

Research has also shown that standardized demographic information, especially patient addresses, can help improve patient matching. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association in 2019 shows that standardizing mailing addresses using the U.S. Postal Service’s format can improve patient match rates by up to 3%.

Though the USPS address format “is often a starting point for this kind of normalization…it has its limits,” Posnack wrote.

“In follow-up to our commitment in [ONC’s Cures Act Final Rule] and the need expressed by stakeholders for additional constraints and consistency around patient address formatting, Project US@ is reflective of how subtle improvements in health IT can have a big impact when implemented at a national scale,” he wrote.

Photo credit: LumineImages, Getty Images


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