Patients to get unique identity number

Wed, Feb 20, 2013, 00:00

Patients’ health is being put at risk by the lack of accurate and standardised personal information available to all medical staff, according to the State’s health watchdog.

The Health Information and Quality Authority yesterday published an outline of which personal information can be included when data is gathered for patients.

It includes a unique identifying number, a person’s name, address, phone number and email address, as well as other details such as date of birth, gender, mother’s birth surname, and religion.

The Health Information Bill to be published at the end of the year will provide for the introduction of a unique number applying to public and private patients. The number will be separate from the existing PPS number.

The authority’s draft national standard on how to collect this information envisages the possible use of fingerprinting, voice recognition and other biometric data- collection methods.


Director of health information Prof Jane Grimson said much of the information would be optional. The aim would be to use the minimum amount of data necessary to reduce safety risks while ensuring the confidentiality of patient details.

“Currently there is no standardised or agreed guidance on the collection of demographic data. There are real risks to patient safety and welfare because there is a lack of consistency in how people are identified across our health and social care system.”

Significant variations in how names are recorded can lead to the risk of misidentification and putting patients at risk, she said. The benefits for patients were safer, better care from having accurate, complete information available and the removal of the need to provide details again and again on each visit.

Prof Grimson said the authority had worked closely with the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner and there was no reason for patients to have concerns over confidentiality issues.

The authority says up to 30 per cent of the total health budget may be spent on handling, collecting, searching for or storing information. It says the current IT infrastructure in the health service is “highly fragmented”.