Study: Unique patient IDs would improve quality, efficiency

A new Rand Corporation study suggests that a unique patient identifier would cost up to $11 billion dollars, but would reduce errors, simplify interoperability, increase efficiency, improve patient confidence and protect patient privacy. The study further suggests the gains from implementing such a system would be approximately $77 billion per year at the 90 percent level of adoption.

The Rand study examines the operational advantages and disadvantages, compares the errors, examines the costs, and discusses the privacy issues associated with the UPI and its alternatives. The authors suggest that a unique, nondisclosing (i.e. containing no personal information) identifier would remove the systemic errors in health-records retrieval. Such a system would have to be paired with a legal system that protects privacy.

"Establishing a system of unique patient identification numbers would help the nation to enjoy the full benefits of electronic medical records and improve the quality of medical care," said lead author Richard Hillestad, a senior principal researcher at RAND.

(SOURCES: AHA News Now,, October 20, 2008; Rand Corporation,, accessed October 23, 2008).