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Patient Misidentification Can Result in Harm to Patients


Keeping track of what symptoms patients are experiencing, a doctor’s notes on their condition, and which tests and procedures are indicated can be a challenging facet of work in a bustling medical facility. In fact, a new study shows that record confusion and patient misidentification can have serious negative consequences for the victims of such errors, even resulting in potentially-fatal mistakes.

What sorts of harm results from patient misidentification?

A report released by the ECRI Institute, a nonprofit organization focusing on medical care and patient safety, sought to examine how these so-called “wrong-patient errors” occur, and how often they cause harm to the misidentified patient. The study examined over 7,600 reports of wrong-patient errors submitted from 181 health care facilities across the US over a 32-week period. In all but roughly 1,700 cases, the error was caught before any sort of harm occurred to the patients. Of the cases where at least some degree of harm occurred, about 8% of those individuals experienced either temporary or permanent harm. Two individuals required intervention to keep the patients alive, and two patients’ deaths may have resulted from misidentification errors. In one incident, a patient wasn’t revived during an operation when the wrong records were pulled up for that patient, so that doctors believed the patient in distress had a do-not-resuscitate order on file when they, in fact, did not. In another incident, an infant was given milk expressed by the wrong mother, and that infant was infected with Hepatitis from that milk.

What can be done about these errors?

ECRI’s report included several suggestions on how these issues can be corrected to prevent patient misidentification in the future. One simple solution is the inclusion of a photograph of the patient in medical files. Despite how easy it is in the digital age to include a photo in an electronic file, most hospitals fail to do so. Another solution suggested by the report’s authors is to not only ask the patient to confirm their identity after the practitioner states their name, but to ask them to repeat their name to ensure they understood. Additionally, hospitals are advised to double-check patients’ wristbands prior to administering medication or conducting a procedure on that patient.

Healthcare facility responsibility to improve identification methods

Patients have a right to expect that the medical facility and professionals administering their treatment will follow the standard practices within the medical field when doing so. If a change to the practices or procedures in a medical facility can be made with ease or a lack of expense relative to the amount of harm that it could prevent, a medical facility that fails to implement such measures can be held liable for resulting harm to patients. The corrective measures suggested by the ECRI Institute are examples of low-cost changes that could save lives and prevent permanent injury.

If you have been hurt by a negligent doctor or nurse in Kentucky, or were the victim of a surgical error or missed diagnosis, contact the compassionate, determined, and trial-ready Lexington medical malpractice attorney Stephen M. O’Brien III for a consultation, at 859-317-2056.

O'Brien Batten & Kirtley, PLLC is located in Lexington, KY and serves clients in and around Lexington, Keene, Nicholasville, Versailles, Midway, Georgetown, Wilmore, Paris, Bourbon County, Fayette County, Jessamine County, Scott County and Woodford County.

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