The coronavirus pandemic has already changed the world in unprecedented ways and is also likely to shape how we will interact with others for many years to come. Ensuring we maintain strict hygiene habits, keeping distance from others, and wearing masks when visiting indoor public spaces have already started to feel somewhat normal, and will likely stay that way for quite some time.
With a huge inflow of patients in COVID–19 testing centres, vaccination facilities and hospitals, the need to be able to accurately identify who is coming in to get tested or receive treatment, what results need to be sent where, and that medical certificates contain the correct factual information, has never been more important.
Why is patient identification so important?
Patient identification errors have been a challenge in healthcare systems worldwide. Whether this is due to the use of different software applications to input medical data, or simply to human error, the consequences of misidentification can be significant – both for healthcare providers and patients.
Misidentification can happen as a result of a number of different factors during registration. Most often errors in the spelling of names and inversions in the name or date of birth create problems in identity data. This in turn can lead to duplications (whereby the information system contains several identities for the same physical person) and collisions (where two physical persons are conflated under the same identity). This is not a small problem, according to data from 2019 approximately 18% of patient records within organisations are duplicates.
The accuracy of the information collected about the patient upon registration is thus essential to ensure that patients receive the right medical bills, get the correct, prescribed treatment, and don’t have repeated or duplicated care or lab test results, which can lead to prolonged diagnosis. For providers, these issues come at a large cost too, both monetarily and to their reputation.
Patient identification challenges caused by COVID-19
As health authorities around the world rollout the largest vaccination program in history, it is important to accurately track which patient receive which vaccine and when. Several COVID 19 vaccines require two dosages in order to achieve the desired immunity. Accurate patient identification is need to ensure that the patient receives the correct booster shot at recommend timing. In the months and years to come the vaccination data will improve invaluable to both patients and clinicians.
One of the greatest issues with patient identification in the COVID-19 era is our reliance on touch-based solutions as a means of identifying who we are. You may have experienced this at your local general practitioner’s office, for example, where a touch screen helps you to register and confirm your appointment. With the fear of catching coronavirus at the forefront of many patients’ minds, there is a reluctance to use touch-based technology.
This gives healthcare providers the option to either try to implement another contactless technology system, or to use paper-based questionnaires. Unfortunately, the latter brings its own complications including handwriting legibility, the hygiene of writing utensils, and the fact that it is time consuming for the patient and for the healthcare worker who has to then manually enter the data. In a pandemic, with the demand for healthcare so high, spending time to manually fill out this paperwork can cause delays that could ultimately be life threatening.
The future of patient identification
Given the impact of COVID-19 on how best to manage patient identification, there are a few key learnings healthcare providers should consider when discussing this topic.
Firstly, the number of manual data entry points and the information provided by patients must be as streamlined as possible.
Secondly, there need to be strict rules on error-free collection. Some form of government issued identity document, such as a driver’s license, national ID card, residence permit or passports offer a guarantee of identity. While it is currently recommended by many healthcare providers that patients bring a form of ID to their appointments, it is not mandated.
Introducing a document reader in the registration process is a major way healthcare providers not only reduce the number of contact points involved in patient identification, they also decrease the likelihood of duplicates and collisions in the information system, and automatically collect verified data to access medical records securely.
The benefits associated with implementing document readers, ultimately lead to boosting the hard work of healthcare providers and preventing inconvenient and potentially expensive mix-ups on top of the pandemic.
It is important to apply the lessons learned from this pandemic so that the healthcare industry is in the best possible shape to handle the number of patients who might need long term care. Implementing processes to securely identify patients aids both the providers and patients – by keeping everyone organised the healthcare industry can do its most effective work.
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