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Standardizing Patient Addresses: Privacy, Security Issues

HHS Proposal Aims to Improve Patient Record Matching, But What Are the Risks?

… Other experts, however, say standardizing address formats will help improve accuracy of matching patients to records and help reduce errors that could lead to patient safety and privacy issues.

“It most definitely would help,” says Susan Lucci, privacy and security senior consultant at tw-Security. “We have seen with duplicate records that a difference in Avenue to Ave. would not necessarily match on that data element,” she notes. “Also things like P.O Box or PO Box make a difference. Not to mention numbered streets when they are done different ways: 1234 42nd Street vs. 1234 42 St. vs. 1234 Forty-Second Street,” she says.

“With duplicate records, there is always a chance that the record may not contain all the important patient data. Because of address and other causes of duplicates, it is not unusual for one patient to have three or more records each containing only part of their medical history. Limited information can lead to medication errors and other serious problems in treatment.”

“Consistency is essential. Whatever is done in admitting must be done in billing and so on.”
—Susan Lucci, tw-Security

Lucci of tw-Security suggests standardization could help improve patient matching in many ways that go beyond standard addresses.

“Standardize how patients with hyphenated last names are handled. What about patients with names like O’Reilly? If you don’t use the apostrophe, the name comes out differently,” she says.

“Consistency is essential. Whatever is done in admitting must be done in billing and so on,” she says. “Right now, admitting is the start of the process. Generally, admitting wants to match the information on the health plan identification card so as not to delay processing. So it is important to ensure that all of this is the same with every subsequent admission to minimize creating duplicate charts.”


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