New York City has activated the Unified Victim Identification System (UVIS) to manage and coordinate all activities related to patient reunification and identification. In the context of COVID-19, UVIS is being used to help families locate loved ones, living or deceased, who may have been admitted or transferred to health care facilities. UVIS coordinates efforts between the City’s 311 system, The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), the New York City Police Department (NYPD), and health care facilities to help families locate their loved ones. Information is maintained in a single unified database with a centralized point of intake to help track individuals.
Under the circumstances, hospitals have likely set up systems to provide information to family members about patients, especially given strict visitor restrictions. These systems are essential to provide updates on patient status, including transfers to other facilities, and death. The City has activated UVIS during this large health care crisis because family members may not be aware of where their loved ones are located or their current status.
UVIS Activation and Process
UVIS enables individuals seeking loved ones in the City to call 311 and provide basic information, including last known location, name, age, gender, and any identifying characteristics such as scars or tattoos. This information is logged by the 311 call taker. DOHMH then utilizes the NYC Emergency Patient Search Portal (NYCEPS) to search the regional health information exchanges (Qualified Entities) and participating hospitals’ Admission/Discharge/Transfer (ADT) data to determine if there is a potential match at an area health care facility or an alternate care site such as the Javits New York Medical Station. If a potential match is found, the information is referred to the NYPD Missing Persons Team, which will contact the health care facility, understand the status of the individual, and determine if a reunification can be made with the family. If the individual is deceased, hospitals must notify families. OCME will then contact the family to allow them to issue final disposition preferences.
While many hospitals have already stood up operations to provide information to family members of patients, a key objective of UVIS is to reduce the number of inquiries hospitals receive from concerned family members seeking loved ones. Therefore, OCME is asking each hospital to complete the following survey and submit specific information about their family management program and their point of contact (POC) for UVIS-related calls in order to help the system run efficiently. The single POC must be a phone number that NYPD Missing Persons Detectives can call when trying to locate an individual. This line should be staffed 24/7, and the staff answering should have the means to determine if the “missing person” is located within the hospital, along with his or her current condition.
The phone number shared by the hospital in the survey will only be made available to NYPD to ensure that others are not calling that line and to protect patient information. OCME and NYPD will investigate adding additional security measures, such as a security question or password, so hospitals can verify the legitimacy of inquiring calls. HIPAA allows hospitals to disclose certain information to law enforcement under these circumstances. In response to a request from a law enforcement officer for the purpose of identifying or locating a missing person, a hospital may only disclose the following limited information: 1) name and address, 2) date and place of birth, 3) Social Security number, 4) ABO blood type and rh factor, 5) type of injury, 6) date and time of treatment, 7) date and time of death, and 8) a description of distinguishing physical characteristics.
OCME and GNYHA will continue to send out updated guidance on the UVIS process. Please complete the survey as soon as possible to ensure the system runs smoothly.