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Misidentification Errors Result in Serious Injury to Patients

Doctors in hospitals have what can at times be a monumentally difficult job just keeping track of their patients. Hospitals can be chaotic, with new patients being admitted, or patients being moved from one room to another with little warning. This sort of chaos can cause what are known as patient misidentification, or “wrong patient” errors. According to a new study, these types of errors have caused serious harm to patients across the country. These researchers suggest that such errors are almost always preventable, and that medical care providers should enact modest reforms to prevent future patient misidentification going forward. 

The recent study was conducted by the ECRI institute, a nonprofit which looks at issues in the medical field relevant to patient safety when receiving care. The study sought to uncover what caused “wrong patient” errors, and how often these errors would lead to a patient suffering some sort of harm. The researchers looked at some 7,600 incidents of wrong patient errors that had been voluntarily reported by hospitals and medical facilities nation-wide over the course of 32 weeks. Researchers point out that it would be impossible to know exactly how many wrong-patient errors had occurred but not been reported in this time.

The researchers determined that, in all but 1,700 of the reported cases, doctors or nurses had caught the misidentification before the patient suffered any sort of harm. Eight percent of all remaining patients suffered either temporary harm, such as being made ill when taking a drug not meant for them, or permanent harm, such as loss of a limb or organ, or even loss of life. Two patients needed some form of medical intervention to stay alive, and two patients’ deaths seemed linked to a misidentification error. One example of such a death was that of a surgery patient who became unresponsive. Doctors referring to what they believed were the patient’s records found a “do not resuscitate” order attached to those records, and thus did not resuscitate the patient. However, these doctors later discovered that these records belonged to another patient.

The study’s authors offer several simple solutions that responsible hospitals should implement to prevent such errors. The authors point out that few medical facilities include photographs in their patient files, and that doing so would be an inexpensive and effective way to help doctors realize whether they are referring to the correct patient’s records. The researchers also recommended that doctors ask the patient to state their name before starting a procedure or test, rather than the doctor asking for confirmation after stating their name. The study’s authors further recommended that hospitals make diligent use of bar codes on patient identification bracelets, scanning them before conducting any tests or procedures.

If you have been injured as a result of an error by a medical professional in Kentucky, contact the knowledgeable and trial-ready Louisville medical malpractice lawyers at the Slechter Law Firm for a consultation, at 502-384-7400.