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Suppose you accidentally lost your health insurance card one day and didn’t realize it. No problem until you went to the doctor or hospital the next time, right? Not necessarily. Someone could find that card, pretend they are you, and use it to get medical treatment. All charges for treatment would be billed to your insurance company, and the mess begins.
The scenario described here is known as medical identity fraud, and it is a growing problem in this country. Fulton County Health Center is taking steps to ensure it never happens to you.
FCHC is in the process of launching a new, secure patient identification technology that will help prevent not only medical identity fraud, but it will also eliminate duplicate medical records and improve patient outcomes. The installation of the new patient identification technology is being led by two departments at the Health Center: Patient Access (Registration) and Health Information (Medical Records).
Fulton County Health Center has partnered with CrossChx, a leader in health care intelligence solutions. CrossChx was founded with the support of the Ohio General Assembly and the Office of the Governor of Ohio. This spring CrossChx will begin installing their SafeChx patient identification system at FCHC to help solve medical identity resolution issues. The system is very simple to use, requires very minimal training and has been universally accepted in other health systems.
Buehrer says the plan is to roll out the system in pieces, beginning with a few registration rooms in Central Registration and one room in the Emergency Department. “We want our staff to get comfortable using it before we roll it out to all registration areas,”
How SafeChx Works
SafeChx uses biometric technology to scan a patient’s index finger. The system identifies extremely small points on the finger and converts those points into a mathematical algorithm consisting of over 1600 numbers and letters. This means that neither FCHC nor CrossChx will ever store a fingerprint on file.
Patients will be asked to initially scan their index finger five times as they answer questions during the registration process. After that initial registration, they will only need one index finger scan to instantly verify their medical identity. It will then link the patient to their medical benefits so no one else can use them.
Benefits of the System
There are three major benefits to using the SafeChx patient identification system:
1. Eliminates Duplicate Medical Records
It is estimated that 10% of medical records are duplicates, which causes added expense for health care providers to carry and access those records. But it also poses problems for patients when they go to check in at a physician’s office or at the Health Center. “Here’s a simple example,” explains Buehrer. “Let’s say a patient visited our Health Center two years ago for tests and registers under the name Robert Smith. A medical record is created for Robert Smith and kept on file. Robert then returns two years later, but this time he registers as Bob Smith. We won’t necessarily know that he is one and the same person.” The use of two different names by the patient results in the creation of two separate medical records, but the information in each of the files is not shared.
Rachel McManaman, RHIA, FCHC’s Director of Health Information & Privacy Officer, explains how this situation can be problematic for the patient. “Suppose this individual is brought to our Emergency Department in an unresponsive state, and we find his driver’s license that reads Bob Smith,” says McManaman. “We’ll access the Bob Smith medical record. But we won’t access the Robert Smith medical record, which could contain valuable information about a previous diagnosis and treatment. The SafeChx system will eliminate that problem, because a patient will now have one medical record linked to their fingerprint scan.”
2. Prevents Medical Identity Fraud
Nationwide, medical identity theft is on the rise, and it is estimated that Americans spend $40 billion annually on medical identity theft. On a personal level, it is possible for someone to find or steal your health insurance card and use it to get treatment, all while posing as you. SafeChx prevents that from happening, because you will be identified by your fingerprint scan, not by a laminated paper health insurance card.
3. Improves Patient Outcomes
“What if we have two patients with the same common name,” explains Buehrer. “Mary Smith, age 72, has allergies to certain prescription medications. Mary Smith, age 74, does not. With the current system, it would be possible … although unlikely … to pull the wrong medical file because of the common name. So if 72-year-old Mary Smith with medical allergies is thought to be 74-year-old Mary Smith with no allergies because of pulling the wrong medical record, bad things could happen to Mary Smith, age 72, if she is given a medication to which she has an allergy.”
“This potential error cannot happen using the SafeChx system,” adds McManaman, “because each of the Mary Smith’s will be identified and linked to their respective medical records via their fingerprint scan. It means the right person will receive the right care.”
A Voluntary System
While the system is not mandatory, all patients ages 5 and up will be encouraged to use it to protect their medical identities. In a short amount of time, there have already been over 400,000 patient encounters at other health care systems using SafeChx, with an acceptance rate of over 96%.
“There are many long-term advantages of this new technology that we expect to benefit from in the near future,” says Buehrer. “SafeChx will allow us to provide quicker patient registration, easier access for doctors to visit patient medical records, decreased administrative burdens of duplicate or incorrect records, as well as quick and accurate patient identification in emergency situations.”