SEER-Medicare: Encrypted Variables

Physician & Hospital Identifiers

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the SEER registries require that the identity of physicians and other health care providers be protected. The SEER registries require that the identity of hospitals also be protected. Therefore the physician and hospital variables on the SEER-Medicare claims are encrypted. This includes the Unique Physician Identification Number (UPIN), National Provider Identifier (NPI), the provider Taxpayer ID number (tax_num), and hospital provider number (Provider). These numbers are encrypted in a similar manner across files and years making it possible to track the same hospital or physician in the SEER-Medicare data over time.

Investigators may want information about providers that requires linkage to other data sources by using unencrypted provider numbers. In order for NCI to release unencrypted hospital numbers, investigators must obtain permission from each of the SEER registries as described below. As of July 2014, NCI no longer releases unencrypted UPINs/ NPIs, PINs or Taxpayer Identification Numbers.

Many investigators want to link to data about physicians from the American Medical Association (AMA). NCI has established methods to support such linkages without requiring special permission. In order to link to the AMA data, investigators should complete the following steps:

  1. Identify the encrypted provider numbers from the Medicare data. Physicians' identifiers are the UPINs or NPIs found on the carrier and outpatient files.
  2. Send the encrypted provider numbers to NCI's information technology contractor, IMS Inc. Please e-mail the provider numbers to Bob Banks. IMS will unencrypt the provider numbers and send them to the AMA.
  3. AMA will return to IMS their data linked to the unencrypted provider number.
  4. IMS will re-encrypt the file and return to the investigator a file with encrypted provider numbers and the selected AMA variables.

Investigators must negotiate directly with the AMA about the variables needed, terms of use and the cost of any processing. Neither NCI nor IMS are involved in this process.

Researchers who are seeking AMA data should direct any inquires to AMA's programming contractor, Medical Marketing Services, Inc.:

Tom Lorge
Medical Marketing Services, Inc.
185 Hansen Court, Suite 110
Wood Dale, IL 60191
Phone: 630-477-1564
Fax: 630-350-1896

Geographic Identifiers

The patient's county of residence is available on the PEDSF (FIP codes) and in the Medicare files (SSA codes). To protect patient and provider identification, NCI encrypts other geographic variables including patient's census tract and ZIP code, physician ZIP code, and hospital ZIP code. Separate files that contain geographically-based (ZIP code and census tract level) socioeconomic information from the 1990 and 2000 Censuses and the 2008 – 2012 American Community Survey are provided and can be matched by the encrypted patient census tract and ZIP code to the claims files. IMS can provide a zip code crosswalk file to facilitate the link to the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care Hospital Referral Regions (HRRs) with the encrypted zip codes. Unencrypted ZIP codes and census tracts can only be released if the investigator obtains permission of each SEER cancer registry.

Exceptions to Allow Release of Unencrypted Variables

If investigators determine that encrypted variables are needed in an unencrypted format for their analysis, they must go through a special approval process. Investigators must submit their completed application form (DOCX, 30 KB) to the SEER-Medicare contact with a detailed justification for access to the unencrypted variable(s). A completed and signed request form (DOCX, 19 KB) and a list of people that will have access to these data must be included with the request. An NCI staff member will review the application. Once NCI supports the request for these variables, investigators must obtain permission from each of the registries prior to release of unencrypted variables for that registry. The SEER-Medicare contact will provide investigators with contact information for the SEER registries. Investigators who are requesting unencrypted variables are encouraged to allow sufficient time to obtain the approval from each SEER registry.

Note: Files with unencrypted variables cannot be stored with regular SEER-Medicare data. In order to combine multiple requests when purchasing data, all requests must have the same permissions for access to any unencrypted variable.