Correct patient matching on health records is an essential safety tool for any physician's office or hospital. Yet achieving it is a significant nationwide problem, according to eye-opening new research from eHealth Initiative Foundation and NextGate. Their study, published last month, "The State of Patient Matching in America," finds that 38% of surveyed providers report at least one adverse event due to patient record information errors in the past two years.

What's more, the Pew Charitable Trust supported a 2019 study that found consistently using standard demographic info (like names, addresses and dates of birth) would help in effectively linking patient records from different physicians.

The proposed National Patient Identifier (NPI) system is another possible fix, although there are privacy and security concerns to work out. However, you can do a lot right now to shore up your own patient matching system and cut down on confusion and possible life-threatening data mistakes. It's crucial to put your attention and resources into five key areas, as follows:

Choose the right software.

Do a complete inventory of how you are storing and implementing your patient data, first and foremost.

Are you using software that's outdated because you haven't had the time or manpower to upgrade? If so, you're not only inviting mistakes and potential patient mix-ups, but your system may not be compatible with the software and programs used by other providers in your area. Work out a practical and immediate plan to make sure your software and operating system is truly serving your patient data well and make all changes necessary ASAP.

Make sure you've got an adequate staffing strategy.

Does your organization have enough IT personnel to handle all patient data concerns in a consistent and accurate manner? Equally important: do you have office staff personnel who actually take the job of maintaining patient records seriously enough?

There can be a tendency among some medical office staff members to simply assume that patient records are safe and in order. There are also so many seemingly more pressing concerns your staff has to deal with that monitoring your records system may get lost in the shuffle. The solution: make sure your physician's office or hospital records office has enough people available to take care of this key job.

Prioritize every last detail of records upkeep.

Assign key team members the task of overseeing the records system so they are on top of changes, adjustments, and any emerging problems. Introduce these team members to all of the providing organizations and offices you link with so that you ideally have at least two point persons who can make certain everyone is on the same page when it comes to transferring patient records seamlessly.

The proper coordination of info in tandem with all community healthcare resources in your area is essential. So is double-checking the info on every record each time it's accessed, which your staff should be instructed to do.

Troubleshoot your website portal design.

Is it secure? If not, that's unacceptable, and you need to make sure securing it is job No. 1. Is it easy for your staff, your linking healthcare providers, and your patients to navigate? You always want patient records to be complete, easy to find, easy to understand, and updated on a regular basis — nothing less will do.

Know that the buck ultimately stops with you.

If there is a records mix-up, breach or any other adverse issue involving patient matching, let your staff and associated providers know you want to personally deal with it. Then go at the problem step-by-step, correct any matching errors quickly and accurately, and communicate the corrections to all parties involved.

Being proactive about accurate patient matching has never been more important — with common sense and up-to-date technology, you've got all the tools to guarantee you're doing it right.