Patient identification mistakes are tragic and preventable. When these mistakes are made, patients have organs unnecessarily removed, are subjected to harmful treatments and given unnecessary medications.
Take for example a recent case in Massachusetts, where a surgeon working as a contractor removed a kidney from the wrong patient! To be honest, these types of errors are common in hospitals throughout the country, but only most egregious examples end up becoming national news.
A recent ECRI Institute study that reviewed 7,600 patient identification mistakes found 91 percent of these errors were caught before patients were harmed. This means the remaining 9 percent of patients suffer some degree of harm. The vast majority of identification mistakes occurred when doctors met with patients or during the intake process.
How Can Hospitals Prevent Patient Identification Mistakes?
Authors of this study claim no single strategy will prevent patient identification mistakes because these errors happen for several different reasons. The authors claim that it takes an organizational approach to prevent mistakes. This means every staff member in the hospital must be committed. Other methods mentioned by the authors of this study can help prevent these mistakes.
- Find multiple ways to confirm identity: One of the ways to prevent identification mistakes it to use two identifiers for each doctor-patient encounter. This can include the patient’s name, hospital ID number or birthday. Using just one, such as a room number, is a recipe for disaster.
- Be cautious of similar names: Some patients may have similar names. It helps to have secondary identifiers or protocols for separating these patients. For example, do not put patients with similar names in the same room.
- Be careful during handoffs: Patient handoffs occur during shift changes. Staff should relay patient identifiers to each other when switching shifts.
This is not an exhaustive list of the methods hospitals may use to prevent patient identification mistakes. Many hospitals may already have similar policies in effect. For the ones that do not, the consequences of a major patient error extend beyond financial and legal liabilities. A hospital’s reputation is extremely important. The hospital mentioned at the beginning of our article? People might remember it as “the place where a patient had a kidney stolen.”
The Florida medical malpractice attorneys at Shapiro Law Group have spent decades helping patients and families harmed by hospital mistakes.