The Misidentification of Health Care Patients

Connecticut residents may be shocked to learn how often patients are misidentified in hospitals and clinics. The Pennsylvania-based ECRI Institute studied patient misidentification by scrutinizing more than 7,600 wrong-patient events that had been reported voluntarily between early 2013 and mid 2015 by 181 health care organizations, and they came to the conclusion that the problem is widespread and goes largely unreported.

According to the nonprofit’s Patient Safety Organization, medical professionals are generally confident that they would never misidentify a patient. However, the research indicates that these errors are commonly made by doctors, nurses, lab technicians and orderlies. The researchers had hoped to identify the time in a patient’s journey through the health care system when misidentification was most likely to occur, but they found that these errors happened at virtually every stage.

Misidentification errors are dangerous because they can lead to patients being given the wrong medications and deprived of life-saving drugs. When these mistakes go unnoticed, patients may be operated on unnecessarily or denied the treatment they desperately need. Ideas to reduce misidentification errors include displaying the patient’s photograph next to their name in electronic health records and developing a standardized method of establishing patient identities that could be adopted and implemented nationwide.

In May 2016, a research team from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine concluded that about a quarter of a million Americans die each year due to medical mistakes. While the damages awarded in medical malpractice cases are sometimes high, personal injury attorneys may find it challenging to locate medical professionals who are willing to come forward and say that the diagnosis or treatment provided to the plaintiff failed to meet accepted standards. Attorneys with experience in this area may seek out physicians who are recently retired or have given evidence in previous medical malpractice trials, or they could have electronic hospital records analyzed by experts for signs of a misdiagnosis or other medical mistakes.