ONC releases draft of address standardization specification

The U.S. Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology has partnered with standards development organizations and other experts to release the Project [email protected] Draft Technical Specification Version 1.0 for public comment.

The draft specification is aimed at standardizing patient addresses across healthcare to improve patient matching, which in turn supports safety, privacy and security, care coordination and interoperability.

“Together, we hope to establish a lasting, industry-wide approach to representing patient addresses that is consistent across a spectrum of clinical and administrative transactions,” wrote the team in the draft specification. 

WHY IT MATTERS

Momentum around standardizing addresses to improve patient matching has been building over the past year, with ONC announcing its Project [email protected] initiative in December 2020. 

Previous research from Pew Charitable Trust and Indiana University has shown that using address formatting guidelines in health records from the U.S. Postal Service would boost match rates by 3% – and even higher when standard formats are used for both addresses and last names.

The newly released draft technical specification was developed by the Project [email protected] Technical Workgroup – which includes several USPS, CDC and electronic health record company stakeholders – in collaboration with ONC and Project [email protected] partners, including HL7, the National Council for  Prescription Drug Programs, X12, and other standards development organizations. 

It includes guidelines around diacritics, punctuation, grid style addresses (such as “842 E 1700 S”), alphanumeric combinations of address ranges, fractional addresses and non-English words. 

It also specifies how records should standardize primary address numbers, predirectionals (such as N Damen Ave), postdirectionals (such as Damen Ave S), numeric street names, secondary address unit designators and two directionals. Military addresses are also included in the specification, as well as State Department addresses, PO boxes and rural routes. 

Puerto Rico, Canada and U.S. territories such as the Virgin Islands are also considered. The comment period for the draft specification will be open from July 1 through 31, with the final version 1.0 expected to be released later this year.

“In addition to submitting comments on the Project [email protected] specification, ONC encourages state agencies, public health organizations, payers, health IT developers, advocacy and research organizations, healthcare providers, and all other interested stakeholders to become Project [email protected] Partners,” said ONC in a press release.

THE LARGER TREND

Patient matching efforts – including address standardization – has continued to play a vital role in interoperability and in patient safety, with advocates noting the privacy issues that can arise from misidentification. 

In April, the Patient ID Now Coalition released a national strategic framework calling on the federal government to partner with other public health authorities and the private sector on this issue.

“Throughout the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgent need to address the issue of patient identification. The inability to accurately match patients with their records has severe patient safety and financial implications, and impedes health information exchange,” said Hal Wolf, president and CEO of Healthcare IT News parent company HIMSS, in a statement.

ON THE RECORD

“With a clear target and industry-wide commitment, it’s been amazing to see how much progress has been made in six short months,” said Steve Posnack, deputy national coordinator for health IT, in a statement about the draft specification. 

“We really appreciate everyone’s efforts thus far, and we encourage additional comment on the draft specification,” he added.    

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