Use of Patient Identifiers at the University of Washington School of Medicine: Building Institutional Consensus to Reduce Bias and Stigma

Fam Med. 2021 May;53(5):366-371. doi: 10.22454/FamMed.2021.251330.


Background and objectives: Patient identifiers are used in the opening lines of case presentations and written documentation in health care and medical education settings. These identifiers can reflect physicians' implicit biases, which are known to impact patient care. Yet, no clear recommendations for the use of patient identifiers to reduce bias and stigma in patient care and medical education learning environments currently exist. We describe a process and outcomes for articulating such recommendations.

Methods: The University of Washington School of Medicine convened a group of diverse stakeholders to create patient identifier recommendations for use in the undergraduate medical education program. After a literature review, 22 recommendations for the use of patient identifiers were articulated. These underwent public comment periods reaching 11,150 potential respondents across our 5-state institution. Feedback from 437 respondents informed modifications to the recommendations. We used consensus methodology with three rounds of surveys and an expert group of 27 stakeholders to adopt recommendations with an a priori threshold of 90% agreeing the recommendation should be used.

Results: We adopted 12 recommendations for patient identifiers for age, gender/sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, size, and stigma; nine in round one, three in round two, and none in the third round.

Discussion: Our institution vetted these patient identifier recommendations via public comment and consensus methodology. Next steps include implementation across the undergraduate medical education program, including classroom and clinical settings. Other institutions could consider similar processes as key steps to reduce bias and stigma in their medical education programs.