Standardizing data in EHRs could improve patient matching, study says

The standardization of demographic data like home addresses or last names could boost patient matching accuracy, according to a new report.


The study, recently published the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, was led by researchers at Indiana University and supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The report also noted that while many of the standards, such as the U.S. Postal Service address, are already in use in other settings, they are not consistently used when it comes to matching in healthcare.


Standardization and commitment from both the private and public sector to make changes to advance patient safety is practically a must as inaccurate patient medical histories and duplicate charts currently plague the U.S. healthcare system.

As it stands, the problems of patient identification and matching result in the risk of medical errors and inefficiencies to care coordination programs such as population management and the billing process.

The study drew on tens of thousands of real-world records that had previously been matched through human review, making it possible for investigators to confirm when standardizing certain information improved the success of a matching algorithm.

Overall, standardizing addresses showed the most promise for improving matching, while standard formats for telephone numbers, birth dates, and Social Security numbers made no significant difference.

According to the report standardizing addresses using the Postal Service’s format, like the listing of street names or abbreviation of certain words, was found to improve match rates by up to 3 percent.

That figure can jump to as much as 8 percent when standard formats are used for both addresses and last names.

The combined effect of address and last name standardization showed that standardization improved sensitivity from 81 percent to nearly 93 percent for the health information exchange dataset.

The study concluded that data standardization was likely to improve match rates, thus ensuring that patients and clinicians have better data on which to make decisions to enhance care quality and safety.


“These findings should inform federal government actions to improve interoperability, which is the ability of EHR systems to effectively exchange information,” Pew Charitable Trusts’ health information technology initiative director Ben Moscovitch wrote in a company blog post.  

Moscovitch called on the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to advance the standardization of addresses by updating policies that govern how digital systems exchange information.

In addition, Moscovitch recommended the ONC encourage the use of additional data routinely captured in EHRs, such as email addresses, for matching.

Nathan Eddy is a healthcare and technology freelancer based in Berlin.

Email the writer: [email protected]

Twitter: @dropdeaded209 

Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication. 

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