Should You Have A Unique ID Number For All Your Medical Records?

UMass Medical School Chancellor Dr. Michael F. Collins

Should you have a unique ID number for all your medical records? The Wall Street Journal asks that question today on its debate page, and University of Massachusetts Medical School chancellor Dr. Michael Collins answers with a resounding “Yes!”

The Journal offers this background:

Proponents say universal patient identifiers, or UPIs, deserve a serious look because they are the most efficient way to connect patients to their medical data. They say UPIs not only facilitate information sharing among doctors and guard against needless medical errors, but may also offer a safety advantage in that health records would never again need to be stored alongside financial data like Social Security numbers. UPIs, they say, would both improve care and lower costs.

Privacy activists aren’t buying it. They say that information from medical records already is routinely collected and sold for commercial gain without patient consent and that a health-care ID system would only encourage more of the same. The result, they say, will be more patients losing trust in the system and hiding things from their doctors, resulting in a deterioration in care. They agree that it’s crucial to move medical records into the digital age. But they say it can be done without resorting to universal health IDs.

The counter-argument to Dr. Collins comes from Dr. Deborah Peel, a psychiatrist and health-privacy expert in Austin, Texas. She proposes a system in which each of us as patients has full control of releasing our records. I must say, I lean toward Dr. Collins but I know my feelings are colored by living in Massachusetts, where I have little fear of being unable to get health insurance coverage.

And overall, my reaction to the debate reminds me of the old Jewish joke: A feuding couple comes before a rabbi for mediation. The husband makes his case and the rabbi says, “You’re right!” Then the wife makes her case and the rabbi allows, “You’re right!” But we can’t both be right, the husband and wife complain. The rabbi ponders and responds: “You know, you’re right!”

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Donna Love

    no way will I let them give me a unique identifer, are you kidding me? how do you suppose that will happen? do you think uou have a card with a number? or do you think its a implantable device? you know a microchip?

  • Susanricelee

    YES!  a unique number.  i have what has become a common name and have had confusion regarding credit but the worst was a total mix of my records with another with my same name AND birthdate.  It took me over a year to get our files separated.  I have a rare blood type so in some circumstances it could have been very awful.  I am grateful that this came to my attention before there was a serious issue but i assume that there are many others in similar circumstances.

  • EMRtechlogyWorker

    Elijah Douglass,

    The way to solve this properly from a technical standpoint is to empower the patient.
    The ARRA Meaningful Use legislation already requires that patients have electronic access to their own records.  So increasingly they should be able to aggregate their own records and give access to whomever they wish.  This obviates the need for a UPI and protects patient privacy.  Technology to facilate transactions like this already exist: Dossia (based in Cambridge, MA) and Microsoft HealthVault.  The core technology was developed at Children’s Hospital Boston.  What’s missing is patients actually advocating for what the law already empowers them to have. 

    We don’t need this big brother approach, which while “efficient” will drastically lower privacy for patients.

  • Elijah Douglass

    Unfortunately, not every hospital/clinic/practice has “fancy algorithms.” UPI’s would greatly improve the system and if patients are worried about privacy issues I’m sure some kind of PIN system could be devised where, when a patient goes to a new doctor, s/he is asked for their UPI and has to type in a personalized password to release that information to the doctor. Resisting change because “things are already messed up and they will just get messed up more” is not a good reason to stick with a broken system.

  • EMRtechlogyWorker

    Working at an MA EMR company is my day job.
    Dealing with multiple patient identifiers is settled science.
    There are fancy algorithms to match and combine patients across systems when necessary.
    We don’t need UPI’s.  If we did they would get abused just like Social Security numbers.