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Study finds patient mix-ups a common, and deadly, problem

A recent study by the ECRI, a nonprofit organization dedicated to studying medical issues with a goal of improving patient care, found that patient mix-ups are not uncommon.

What are "patient mix-ups" and why should I be concerned?

The Wall Street Journal reported on the study, explaining that the patient mix-ups covered by the study involve a failure to properly identify the patient receiving treatment. These identification issues can result in serious injury.

A striking example provided in the piece involved a failure to revive a patient after surgery. The medical professionals attending the patient were under the belief that the patient had a do not resuscitate order. In reality, they were reviewing the wrong patient's information. The patient that was on their table in need of assistance did not have this order and should have been resuscitated.

How do these mistakes happen?

Part of ECRI's findings included looking into the causes of these mistakes. Their findings included:

  • Registration errors. 13 percent of all identification errors begin at registration. One reason for registration error is a failure of the computer systems to recognize minor variations in the patient's name (inclusion of a middle initial, for example).
  • Wristband issues. Most patients are given a wristband at registration. This wristband includes identification information. Researchers with the study found that some of these wristbands were simply wrong or ineligible.
  • Diagnostic test confusion. Looking at the wrong test was also a common mistake. Over 33 percent of errors occurred at this stage of care. Examples include reading the wrong X-ray or looking over the wrong set of lab work.

Any one of these mistakes could result in serious injury to the patient. The wrong identification can result in a treatment plan that is dangerous for the patient. If these mistakes result in injury, compensation is likely available to the patient through a medical malpractice claim

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