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Patient Identification Mix-Ups Can Lead to Fatal Medical Errors

A new study is shining a light on how frequently hospitals mix up patient medical records. It also highlights the potentially deadly consequences, which include confusing a patient with a do-not-resuscitate order with another who wants life-saving measures and performing surgery on a patient based on the medical history of another patient.

ECRI Institute, a patient safety group, studied 7,613 patient identification errors that occurred at 181 health-care organizations from January 2013 to July 2015. The data was gathered from a federal database where such errors are voluntarily reported, which suggests that the incidence of wrong-patient mistakes is likely much higher.

ECRI Institute’s analysis revealed that wrong-patient errors can take place at numerous times during patient care. In total, more than 30 percent of the errors took place during diagnostic testing. Another 22 percent of the mistakes occurred during patient treatment, while 13 percent occurred during patient registration.

As the study also highlights, wrong-patient errors are so prevalent because they can occur in a variety of health-care facilities, ranging from nursing homes to hospital surgical wards. Mistakes can also be made by doctors, nurses, pharmacists, lab technicians, and other medical staff.

“This is a huge problem that the general public isn’t aware of,” said William Marella, executive director for operations and analytics at the ECRI Institute’s Patient Safety Organization. “Pretty much every clinician involved in your health care is at risk of making this kind of error.”

Most of the patient identification mistakes analyzed in the study were caught before the patients were harmed. However, the errors were fatal in two cases. The risk for a bad outcome is compounded because many wrong-patient medical errors impact at least two patients. For instance, when a patient receives a medication intended for another patient, both patients—the one who received the wrong medication and the one whose medication was not provided—may suffer harm.

If you or someone you care about has suffered serious harm due to a serious medical mistake, you may be entitled to compensation. For more information, please contact a San Diego medical malpractice attorney at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.