Unique Patient Identifier: Finding Undetected Serious Drug Interactions

New research shows that Unique Patient Identifiers could be key in preventing serious drug interactions.
Unique Patient Identifier

More than 22,000 patients in the United States are exposed to potentially dangerous drug interactions each year when health care providers lack visibility into patients’ complete medication history and other essential information, according to a new study by Express Scripts and the Regenstrief Institute.

The study found that the riskiest month for these interactions is January since that’s when many patients have new health coverage take effect, which in turn could cause data gaps. During that month, nearly 10 percent of serious drug/drug interactions (SDDI) in the U.S. go undetected.

To reduce that risk, the study suggests utilizing a unique patient identifier (UPI), which is a personalized code assigned to each patient. A UPI can facilitate the sharing of health information among providers, help improve patient safety, and prevent harmful consequences that could arise if a patient were prescribed medications with dangerous interactions.

During the study, researchers analyzed more than 1.4 billion pharmacy claims over three years across nearly 50 million patients served by Express Scripts. The retrospective study looked at each SDDI alert generated by Express Scripts and determined whether a UPI enabled its discovery.

At Express Scripts, we process all claims under a single platform, using a UPI, which enables us to identify potentially serious interactions across insurance plans for more than 800 patients a year. 

Universal use of a UPI in the U.S., combined with regular exchange of patient information through Interoperability standards, could close information gaps that contribute to up to 6,000 patients annually receiving a medication that could be harmful to them, according to the study. To support this, the study recommends that stakeholders throughout the health care system adopt a UPI and exchange information through interoperability standards. This will help ensure that patients’ medical histories – including their prescriptions –are always available to the pharmacies, providers, and insurance companies that need them.

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