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Q&A: Universal Patient Identification

With patient identity verification a key issue in the healthcare industry, some experts have proposed the implementation of a Universal Patient Identifier (UPI) — unique ID numbers associated with individual patient medical records. Would this system help reduce medical identity theft, or invite privacy risks? The Healthcare Professionals Section recently spoke with Dr. Bal M. Rajagopalan, CEO of the Beverly Hills Orthopedic Institute and a medical consultant for ABC News, to get his thoughts on the UPI issue.

What do you see as the most critical issues in IDing patients, and what solutions would you like to see implemented?
A critical issue is for doctors to be able to see exactly where a patient stands and what their status is within the healthcare system. A system such as UPI would make it very organized.

What would be the benefits — and concerns — of assigning patients UPI numbers associated with their medical records?
It would give us a standard on usage and abuse regarding medical care and also provide applicable data for research analysis. But it would be very important to remember that any data that’s organized around a UPI can be extracted, released, etc. so compliance with HIPAA would be very important to ensure patient privacy.

Will there still be a need for healthcare patients to be identified by “conventional” photo IDs like driver’s licenses if UPI is implemented?
Yes I see a continuing need. For example, Notaries need to request photo ID to notarize healthcare documents such as powers of attorney, and pharmacies sometimes need to request photo ID from customers.

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