Advancing the Science

Mayo Clinic Medical Science Blog – an eclectic collection of research- and research education-related stories: feature stories, mini news bites, learning opportunities, profiles and more from Mayo Clinic.

October 13, 2015

Simple Shift, Four Numbers, Big Results

By Elizabeth Zimmermann

Jon Ebbert, M.D., is a primary care physician and researcher, and the Minnesota & Midwest Site Director for the Mayo Clinic Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery

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Research published recently by colleagues in the Mayo Clinic Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery showed that adding the last four digits of an individual’s social security  number to administrative medical data can enable trusted repositories to link data with nearly perfect accuracy without compromising patient confidentiality.

The number of states collecting patient-level health care utilization data is growing. However, in response to frequent troubling reports of personal and financial data compromise, many large state databases are maintained with few, if any, personal identifiers.

Linkage of data is a fundamental building block for health information exchange. When patient-level data can be linked within and across health care-related data sources, investigators can address  important health care policy issues including tracking patients across sites, relating interventions at one site to outcomes recorded at another, identifying post-hospital outcomes, and distinguishing repeat procedures on a single patient from multiple procedures each performed on a different patient.

Better linking of an individual’s records results in better service – seems obvious, but sometimes it takes someone outside of the process to take a look at the system and identify a solution.

The study was published in the August issue of Health Services Research, and was part of a collection of studies highlighted in the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s September 29 newsletter.

It is the result of our ongoing efforts within the Kern Center to identify ways to improve health and the delivery of health care. Through our newly-designated Office of Health Care Practice and Policy, as well as our other programs – Care Experience, Health Care Systems Engineering, Population Health Science and Surgical Outcomes – we continuously seek solutions to the problems that exist in health care today.


Tags: About, AHRQ, big data, Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery, Findings, Innovations, Jon Ebbert

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