« Friday Five: Top 5 healthcare business news items from the MCOL Weekend edition | Main | Changing the conversation from wellness to total wellbeing »

No Thanks, I Already Have Number

By Kim Bellard, November 17, 2016

Health care has a problem.  Well, of course, it has many problems, but one of them is that the various parties involved in the health care system can't agree on who we are.   Twenty years ago HIPAA called for creation of unique patient identifiers to accomplish this task, but within two years Congress put this on hold until further notice, and we're still waiting.

Everyone used to use social security numbers for this purpose, until we finally figured out the folly of that (especially since that number was never intended to be used as a national identification number).

News flash; we already have a unique, non-government-issued identifier: it's called a cell phone number.

It's obvious why we want a universally accepted patient identifier.  Providers and insurers have to agree on who you are to exchange claims and payments.  Different providers have to agree on who you are if we're ever going to get to interoperability of health information.

We can't/shouldn't use social security numbers, and not everyone has a drivers license number.  Health insurance numbers change whenever you change insurers, or even stay with the same insurance company but change employers.  What to do?

Thus the cell phone number.

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2015 92% of U.S. adults had a cell phone. That's not everyone, but not everyone has a social security number either.  When you do business with almost any organization these days, you are likely to be asked to provide your email and cell number number.

The New York Times reported on how the cell phone numbers have already become a widespread identifier.  As a security consultant told them, it has become "kind of a key into the room of your life and information about you."

As The Times pointed out, there are no legal requirements for companies who have your cell phone number to keep it private, unlike protected health information (PHI).  To be fair, they also noted how poorly protected social security numbers have been as well, leading to billions of dollars in annual fraud losses.  With cell phones, though, hackers have shown that, once they have your number, not only can they link you to various databases, but they can also listen to your phone calls, read your texts, even track your location.

However, it's not all bad news.  You can lock your phone or change your number if you think your cell phone number has been breached.

Like it or not, our cell phones are becoming our lifelines to the world, including but in no way limited to health.  Health care might as well acknowledge that fact, the way that most other industries are already starting to.  You can send money to someone using just their cell phone number; why not file a claim or link electronic records?

Don't want to use your cell phone number as your identifier?  OK, get a free Google Voice number, or use an app like Sideline to add a free second number to your existing mobile phone.

Meanwhile, most systems even in health care already can and probably do store our cell phone numbers.  It'd be just like health care to develop an expensive new solution to a problem.  For once, could we go the obvious route?

This post is an abridged version of the posting in Kim Bellard’s blogsite. Click here to read the full posting

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>