An effort is underway to create a comprehensive database of the health history of every man, woman and child in the Garden State.

According to Tom Gregorio, the senior executive director for the healthcare innovation lab at the New Jersey Innovation Institute, the idea behind the Master Person Index is to bring together the islands of different healthcare information that exist across the state, to create a reliable patient identifier system.

He says this will ensure that when patients have the same or similar names there is no mix-up in the care or medication they’re given.

“Medical errors are the third largest killer in the country and one of the ways to solve that problem is being as sure as we can of who the patient is before anything is done to them,” he said.

State Health Commissioner Cathleen Bennett says creating this Index is a way to make sure “that we appropriately identify the right person at the right time and in the right location when they’re looking to access care.”

She pointed out a major challenge in healthcare is “there are multiple people who have the same name, and who could reside in the same community.”

She said by assigning a special identifier number to every patient in the state it will carry across “multiple types of health records, so it’s something available then to physicians, to nurses, to pharmacists, even to other types of community providers.”

What info they use

Gregorio said a variety of patient information sources are being pulled together for the Master Person Index, including about 3 million immunization records from the state Department of Health.

“And we then ping other sources, other hospitals, other organizations up against it to also get a match.”

This would include all medical centers, clinics and pharmacies as well as doctors and hospitals.

He said once the system reaches a 95 to 98 percent reliability level for who a patient is and what their medical history is, a long identifier number will then be assigned to them.

“It’s making sure that the right person gets the therapies. It helps with fraud, it helps with making sure the right patients are getting the services when they’re supposed to.”

Who can access it?

Bennett says “it will be providers like your physicians or your nurse practitioners or hospitals who have entered into an agreement to share information or health data.”

She said if a person has an emergency and has to go to the hospital, as soon as they are released their discharge information would then be shared with their doctor or specialist.

“This ensures that care is coordinated amongst the community of health care providers.”

She pointed out another advantage of creating this kind of Index is that “it makes sure that we have quality data available so that we can better manage population health.”

“It will help us better understand the drivers of chronic diseases and better partner with patients so they can educate and prevent, screen and manage chronic diseases and ensure coordination with community supports.”

Gregorio explained the system is partially up and running in Newark.

He said University Hospital and Beth Israel Medical Center are already sharing data, combined with public health information, and the rest of the state will be tied in over the next year or two.

“We want to make sure this will help route information appropriately to the appropriate person," he said.

Once a person’s identity, medical history and insurance information is confirmed and bundled together, Gregorio said it can then be sent “to where that care needs to be rendered, so they have the most up-to-date information.”

Bennett says when you have the right patient with a unique identifier, “you no longer are trying to reconcile when an individual arrives for care is this the right Patty Smith who is in my office, and is this the right list of medications that she is currently on, these the right tests that she has taken.”

She believes this type of Index will make the work of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals easier and safer.

“It’s because all members along the continuum of healthcare are operating from the same facts and they’re all receiving the same types of alerts that let them know what is happening with the patient.”

Funding for the project is being supplied by the state Department of Health and the federal government. Gregorio said so far about $3.7 million has been spent, and another $3.5 to $4 million will be added into the mix later this fall.

The New Jersey Innovation Institute is part of NJIT.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at

More From New Jersey 101.5 FM