Say “Hey!” to Project US@ – a Unified Specification for Address in Health Care

Steven Posnack | December 1, 2020

Standards come about for many reasons. They make things more efficient, cost effective, and safer to name a few. Often you’ll hear witty banter in the standards community (I know…right!?) about whether something is “fit for purpose.” This is also accompanied by the question, “what’s your use case?”

Among the outliers and edge cases there are some things on which we really do need to agree across the health care ecosystem and implement consistently. How we represent a patient’s address is one of them. In particular, as mundane as address may seem it is often one of the key elements used for the purposes of patient matching and linking records, though other data like email and cell phone number are gaining in their use.

Today, as part of ONC’s API Year in Review virtual event, I announced that the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) in collaboration with Health Level 7 (HL7), the National Council for Prescription Drug Programs (NCPDP), and X12 (along with the other standards development organizations (SDOs) and members of the Health Standards Collaborative (HSC)) have agreed to develop a unified specification for address in health care. We call our new initiative Project US@ and it will formally launch at the start of 2021. The project’s goal is to issue a unified, cross-SDO, health care industry-wide specification for representing address within the year.

Among the many standards stewarded by HL7, NCPDP, and X12 there are fields for address, but the approach to represent it are typically left to the implementer to decide. Without specific constraints to rely on, implementers use a variety of free and commercial third party tools, resources, and methods to help normalize address representations. The United States Postal Service (USPS) Publication 28 is often a starting point for this kind of normalization, but as we discussed in ONC’s Cures Act Final Rule it has its limits.

In follow-up to our commitment in that final rule and the need expressed by stakeholders for additional constraints and consistency around patient address formatting, Project US@ is reflective of how subtle improvements in health IT can have a big impact when implemented at a national scale. By doing this together, we will be able to establish a lasting, industry-wide approach to representing patient address that is consistent across a spectrum of clinical and administrative transactions.

If you’d like to join in at the start of the year and be part of Project US@, HL7 will be providing overall project management support for the initiative. Please be on the lookout for more information.