The Pew Charitable Trusts is concerned with the ability to accurately match patients to their health records. According to healthcare providers surveyed, match rates are "far below the desired level for effective data exchange," said researchers at Pew, which collaborated with eHealth Collaborative on the report.

Patient matching is the comparing of data from different health IT systems to verify if data sources match and belong to the same patient. Matching data completes the patient’s health history and medical care record. If data matches, that patient’s records are combined to eliminate duplication and confusion.

Patient matching makes it possible to integrate data from different providers and health IT systems, including electronic health records and personal health records. Mismatched records can lead to care delays, patients receiving inappropriate care, or being prescribed the wrong medicine.

Mismatched patient records also can raise healthcare costs.

The two organizations interviewed doctors at 18 hospitals, doctors' offices and health IT exchanges. The current state of patient matching provides ample opportunity for improvement, these caregivers said.

Matching patients to their healthcare records is an ongoing problem. Current match rates between organizations are as low as 50%, the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) reports.

Pew found that many companies measure only duplicate records within their systems, not how often outside records can be linked with records providers already have in-house.

"Many companies also were not able to pinpoint their match rates because they simply don't know the universe of the records that should be related, and don't know how many records should have been linked but weren't," Healthcare Dive reported about the study.

Data issues are compounded in urban healthcare systems as they are more likely to share records because their patients get care at multiple locations.

Pew said that techniques to improve matching vary by scope, method and price. Some suggestions include creating unique patient identifiers; patient verification of records via smartphone; standardizing demographic data; and enacting referential matching.

Pew also found that many healthcare players automate matching and employ four to five employees full-time to manage mismatched records.

HHS released two rules in mid-February to further interoperability. If finalized, by 2020, insurers participating in any CMS-run plans must be able to grant patients electronic access to their health data free of charge.

The industry would be incentivized to adopt standardized ways of communicating with each other, and the Office of the Inspector General would fine actors found to be blocking information up to $1 million per violation.

In a response to ONC interoperability rules, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), representing healthcare CIOs, recommended adding patient matching to the certification requirements that health IT vendors must meet. "At a minimum, vendors should be required to attest to their matching rate; make it a violation under data blocking not to share a patient matching rate," the organization said.

CHIME submitted the comments in collaboration with affiliate organizations the Association for Executives in Healthcare Information Technology (AEHIT) and the Association for Executives in Healthcare Information Applications (AEHIA), which together represent 4,000 health IT professionals.