In a boost for patient matching, ONC releases technical specs for Project US@

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT this past week released the Project US@ Technical Specification Final Version 1.0, in collaboration with healthcare standards development organizations and other healthcare stakeholders.

The new specification (it’s pronounced “Project USA”) was developed as a unified, cross-standard approach that can be implemented across healthcare organizations of all shapes and sizes. The aim is to offer a unified method for representing mailing, physical, billing and other addresses, to help improve patient matching.

Standardized representation of how addresses are written in healthcare records has long been an elusive but important component of accurate patient identification and broader nationwide interoperability. So ONC has been working for the past year with a variety of healthcare stakeholders and SDOs to develop the Project US@ specs.

“Among the many data elements that are used in patient matching, research has shown patient address to be one of the most sensitive to standardization and therefore impactful on patient matching, especially at scale,” wrote Deputy National Coordinator for Health IT Steve Posnack and ONC IT Specialist Carmen Smiley in a January 7 blog post.

“ONC kicked off a process in January 2021 to seek broad community input as well as expertise in standards development and health information management,” they said. “What followed was active feedback and engagement by more than 150 project participants from 18 standards development organizations, 17 health IT developers, eight payers, 10 healthcare provider organizations, 11 federal agencies, seven state agencies and 12 research, advocacy, and public health organizations.”

The agency is now encouraging state and federal agencies, public health organizations, payers, IT developers, researchers and providers to think seriously about implementing the final specification.

The Patient ID Now coalition, founded in 2020 by an array of healthcare stakeholders (including HIMSS, the parent company of Healthcare IT News), has advocated for more widespread operational principles to address limitations that lead to inaccurate patient identification, which hinders interoperability and can put patient safety at risk. In 2021, the coalition released national strategic framework for identity and matching.

Project US@ was first announced in December 2020, and a draft technical specification was released for comment in June 2021. The workgroup included representatives from the CDC, electronic health record vendors, HL7, the National Council for  Prescription Drug Programs, X12 and others.

“Together, we hope to establish a lasting, industry-wide approach to representing patient addresses that is consistent across a spectrum of clinical and administrative transactions,” said team members at the time.

Nearly 130 comments were received this past summer from stakeholders and the public, informing the Final Version 1.0.

ONC’s goal was to complete Project US@ by early 2022. Having accomplished that goal, the agency wants healthcare stakeholders to learn more about the specs and “adopt, test, and apply them for improved patient matching.”

To help, it has developed a companion guide with the American Health Information Management Association to help stakeholders with best practices for implementation and deployment of Project US@.

AHIMA is another founding member of the Patient ID Now coalition. It has also recently published an updated version of its patient naming policy and recently released a policy statement on patient identification.

“I encourage health information professionals to be proactive and begin preparing for implementation of the technical specification, even if they haven’t received updates from the EHR vendor their organization works with,” said Lauren Riplinger, AHIMA’s vice president of policy and government affairs.

“A standardized patient address might seem like a small thing, but that’s precisely why this work was important. Improving the accuracy and consistency of addresses will have a big impact if implemented at scale,” said ONC’s Steve Posnack. “I am grateful to the SDOs, federal partners, and health IT stakeholders who all joined in to rapidly develop this new specification.”

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
Email the writer: [email protected]

Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS publication.

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