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Mystery Solved - Medical assistant plays patient identity detective

Mystery Solved Medical assistant plays patient identity detective posted Oct 5, 2014, 6:18 PM by SD SMA

Below you will find an article written about CMA (AAMA), Kathy Thorpe, a medical assistant in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Kathy was featured in the July/August 2014 Edition of CMA Today.

“I love mysteries, and better yet, solving them,” says Kathy Thorpe, CMA (AAMA). That is why she thrives as the patient identity specialist for Avera St. Luke’s Hospital in Aberdeen, South Dakota.

“I’m constantly trying to solve identity mysteries. For example, a patient calls saying she was billed for a pathology procedure she didn’t have, so I must dig into what happened,” says Thorpe. This particular investigation revealed a medical record for another patient with the exact same name and similar birthdate. The pathology department had recorded the results on the wrong patient’s chart. “At this point, I let our business office know so the correct insurance can be billed. Oftentimes, we don’t find out about these errors until months later, and the person’s medical chart has been going back and forth between the right and wrong person, which means I have to re-create both patient charts with the correct information,” Thorpe explains. Since the patients saw each other’s medical information, she also informs the federal government that a breach of privacy occurred. “It’s amazing how one tiny mistake can create a volume of work, but the gratification comes when I know that it’s all solved and everyone can go on with their business,” she says.

In her 18th year with St. Luke’s, Thorpe wears many hats in the health information management department. Since the hospital is part of a multi-health care information system, she researches, identifies, and performs consolidation of patient identity within electronic medical records for St. Luke’s 28 facilities. She also helps patients write advance directives, and is working on a patient portal that will give patients online access to their medical records.

“This position required either a CMA (AAMA) or RHIT [registered health information technician], and I know my medical assisting background proves useful every day while I’m helping people easily document and access important information for themselves and their families,” notes Thorpe.

Thorpe’s passion for ease and accuracy earned her a role on the Hospital Incident Command System Emergency Planning Committee. In order to be on the committee, she had to receive two certifications from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “If there was a big disaster and our hospital got flooded with victims, I’m the sole author of our department policy, how we’d respond to that disaster, and how we’d track patients—whether we’re tracking them from the disaster site to the ER or from the ER to different locations in the hospital, or even facilities outside of the hospital,” says Thorpe. In the event of a disaster, she and the hospital safety officer would work with the fire and police departments, and any other responding entities.

Thorpe’s expertise caught the attention of the South Dakota State Department of Health’s emergency management team. Last September, St. Luke’s tested the full use of patient tracking, as well as visitor and employee tracking, during a tornado drill. “We were able to identify a couple of glitches in the tracking system that are now being fixed,” she states. Because of this testing, the state asked St. Luke’s to be a test site for an updated tracking system that would electronically track patients and equipment through the hospital and other health care facilities all while the state receives live viewing.

“It’s an honor to be part of such an important project. Hurricanes Rita and Sandy and the Joplin tornado hit me hard,” says Thorpe. “I find myself tackling this from the patient’s perspective—if I were in a disaster, how would my family know where I am? Knowing this project will bring families together in a time of crisis is the ultimate reward, the ultimate case solved.”

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