doctor talking to patient

The best of both worlds: Achieving interoperability while protecting patient privacy

by ​Michael Campana
Have you ever felt like you had to choose between increasing interoperability or protecting patient privacy?

The concern over patient privacy and anonymity is what originally caused Congress to prohibit the use of National Patient Identifiers (NPI). While these unique patient identifiers have been controversial for decades, many healthcare organizations are putting the pressure on government officials to rethink the NPI ban. They believe that patient identifiers would improve the exchange of health information and minimize the chances of error or mismatched information.
In fact, a group of 25 healthcare organizations — representing providers, payers and health IT companies — recently wrote members of Congress to remove the nearly twenty-year-old ban.

So, what exactly does that mean? And what implications could it have for healthcare organizations?

For starters, it’s a continual challenge for providers to be able to match patient identity across the care continuum. It’s not only something that can cause internal headaches, but it also is a major hurdle standing in the way of achieving interoperability.

As more and more providers begin sharing patient information across systems, the risk of data falling into the wrong hands increases. While this can be a scary thought, there are steps you can take to secure patient information to help avoid this. And if all providers are able to put in place a system that lets them confidently identify patients regardless of location or vendor, then true interoperability can flourish.

The fact is that when you capture and share data with the right tools and technologies, you can help your organization meet interoperability goals and safely manage patient healthcare data.


To achieve interoperability while protecting patient privacy, you should start by considering the following questions:

1. Do you have technology in place that can accurately capture, manage and transform sensitive patient information?

2. Are there areas within your data processing where information might get lost or mistranslated?

3. Are you able to securely share electronic information throughout your hospital and with other providers?

The fact is that when you capture and share data with the right tools and technologies, you can help your organization meet interoperability goals and safely manage patient healthcare data.

The two goals don’t have to be mutually exclusive. And while a decision has not yet been made in terms of dropping the prohibition against unique patient identifiers, organizations should continue prepping to be as secure as possible as they get closer to achieving interoperability.

Prepare for greater interoperability

Though some interoperability challenges are dependent on technology vendors to resolve, there are several ways you can take control. By improving your organization’s ability to share information, you can lower costs and improve collaboration for better outcomes.

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1Kate Monica. "Renewed Call for HHS Support to National Patient Identifier". EHR Intelligence. April 11, 2017.
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