Wrong Patient Identification Has Severe Consequences for Hospitals and Patients

By Salman Rashid

Wrong patient identification, for a number of reasons, still exists to this day. It affects the U.S. healthcare system the most as hospitals have no effective standardized patient identifier shared by all facilities. While different caregivers have used various strategies to implement an effective patient identifier, it’s been around two decades since the ban on funding a national patient identifier system has been in place. During this period, many caregivers opted for patient identity verification solutions and others pushed for a national patient identifier, whereas the rest (i.e., most of them) have been struggling with inaccuracies. That being said, let’s take a look at why accurate identification of patients within hospitals is so important.

The many effects of wrong patient identification

It’s safe to say that most caregivers want to see immaculate healthcare outcomes and better bottom lines within their facilities. Whatever their priorities are, eliminating wrong patient identification should be on top of the list as these errors hamper patient safety, generate detrimental healthcare outcomes, create opportunities for medical identity theft, lead to patient data integrity failure, and more. Let’s learn how each of the above are created by patient misidentification.

Patient misidentification generates duplicates and overlays

Patient misidentification is a known menace in the U.S. healthcare system, and most errors of this nature occur during patient registration.

Let’s look at an example. When a patient comes into the hospital to obtain healthcare services, the registrar looks up the patient in the EHR system. As patient identification is quite problematic due to common names and characteristics, plus other factors, the registrar can have a difficult time identifying the accurate medical record. As a result, there are a few choices in front of the registrar: spend even more time and find the accurate information, create an entirely new medical record, or assign the record that most closely matches the patient. The results of the last two options are disastrous, to say the least.

Creating a new record for an existing patient results in a duplicate medical record, which is worse than it sounds. A duplicate record, with some data in the original and other data in the duplicate, means physicians receive incomplete and fragmented patient information, leading them to make wrong decisions regarding treatment plans. If a single, accurate medical record is used, then the patient would get accurate medical services.

What about when the registrar chooses the medical record that most closely matches the patient? Typically, there is no verification that the record actually belongs to the patient, and indeed it usually does not—which leads to a medical record overlay. Medical record overlays are created when patient information is put into the wrong medical record or when two different medical records are wrongfully merged. The healthcare outcomes from these situations can be catastrophic. For example, if the medical record holder (patient X) has diabetes and the visiting patient (patient Y) doesn’t have it, yet Y is erroneously assigned to X’s medical record, Y will receive medical treatment based on entirely wrong information. This leads to the next issue caused by wrong patient identification: patient safety incidents.

Patient identification errors jeopardize patient safety

If a patient is misidentified, they will be given wrong treatment plans, wrong medications, or even wrong transplants. While the damages range from financial to physical, the effects are irreversible in most cases, with some patients even losing their lives. Patient misidentification causes preventable medical errors—but they are preventable only if the patient is accurately identified. Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the consequences of patient misidentification. There’s more.

Patient misidentification causes issues with patient data integrity

This one is a given: Whenever a patient record is used for the wrong patient, it leads to data quality issues. In most cases, patient data integrity failures can be traced back to wrong patient identification. However, there’s a crucial issue that’s related to patient misidentification: fraudsters committing medical identity theft.

Lack of proper patient identification clears the path for medical identity theft

A lot of medical identity theft cases could be prevented with positive patient identification. Fraudsters typically buy medical records from hackers who cause data breaches and steal said records. As a result, fraudsters know what to say during the check-in process in order to impersonate the victims. If positive patient identification were present, it would be impossible to commit identity theft in hospitals so easily.

It is high time that healthcare providers focus on accurate patient identification

Clearly, patient identification errors have a number of consequences, some worse than others. Healthcare providers that want to improve healthcare outcomes, prevent patient safety incidents, and enhance their bottom lines must take patient identification into account and implement solutions that ensure its accuracy. That might be exactly what they need for better patient outcomes.

Salman Rashid is a digital marketing analyst at RightPatient, a platform that helps enhance patient safety across hospitals.