Senators attempt to improve electronic health records a second time amid COVID-19 pandemic

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A bipartisan group of senators is taking a second stab at improving patient record matching among health-care providers — this time to aid COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

Their reintroduced Patient Matching Improvement Act would make the U.S. Postal Service‘s address-formatting tool available to hospitals, testing laboratories and vaccination sites to increase correct patient record linkages across providers.

Researchers estimate improving the exchange of information between health IT systems in this way could mean tens of thousands of additional matches.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is the worst public health crisis that our country has witnessed in generations, and we must take full advantage of any technology that is available to us in order to contain this virus and save lives,” said Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., who’s co-sponsoring the bill with Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La. “This bipartisan bill provides a simple solution to help improve the vaccination process, bolster contact tracing efforts and more accurately track community spread.”

Improving electronic health record systems will also help patients after the pandemic, Hassan added.

Patient matching fails up to half the time due to record typos, changes in names or address, and similarities in information between people.

Hassan and Cassidy first introduced the bill in August, during the previous Congress, to aid COVID-19 response efforts. Back then the two warned delaying could hinder broad administration of a vaccine, but the bill never left the Senate health committee.

“Identifying and containing COVID-19 before it spreads within a community is possible with existing technology,” said Cassidy, a doctor. “This bill provides an important tool to more quickly isolate the virus and save lives.”

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Bill Cassidy, coronavirus, COVID-19 vaccines, electronic health records (EHRs), Maggie Hassan, United States Postal Service (USPS)
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