Erin Benson

Posted on: November 29, 2018

Imagine this frightening scenario: Two female patients with similar first and last names have breast biopsies at their local hospital. One patient is found to have breast cancer; the other does not. Because of their similar names, their medical records get mixed up. The healthy patient is told she has breast cancer and must undergo a mastectomy. Meanwhile, the patient with breast cancer is told she’s fine.

While this particular situation is hypothetical, these types of medical record mix-ups occur more frequently than you might think. If a patient’s health records—including their lab work, scans and treatments—are accidentally swapped with someone else’s records, the results can be catastrophic.

Mismatches in medical records jeopardize patient safety

Medical records are critical to a patient’s identity in the healthcare system. Most of the time, mismatches are caught and only cause frustration to the patient and staff. But when they go undetected, the consequences can be far more serious.

Reading the wrong person’s medical records jeopardizes patient safety and raises healthcare costs by potentially leading to:

  • Incorrect diagnosis and treatment
  • Redundant tests and services
  • Unnecessary hospitalizations
  • Productivity loss

How wrong-patient mistakes happen

Incorrect identification can occur anywhere on a patient’s healthcare journey, starting with registration. Sometimes mistakes are simply human error: a name or Social Security number typed incorrectly. Other times, disparate naming practices cause confusion, such as whether to include a middle name or only a middle initial.

If healthcare staff can’t locate a patient’s record already in their system, they create a new record. A duplicate record spreads a patient’s health data over multiple charts, so the record pulled up at any one time may be missing important details, such as a patient’s allergies and medications.

The problem is getting worse

Now that electronic health records have been incorporated into standard clinical practice and medical data is often shared between physicians, practices and hospitals, the opportunity for more errors to occur is increasing. Not only are more people contributing to the medical records, but lack of standardization and interoperability—when disparate records can’t be merged—also contribute to the problem.

What can be done

Giving healthcare providers access to a patient’s full medical history—including diagnoses, procedures, test results, prescriptions, etc., rather than a snapshot view acquired in a single visit, enables doctors to reach an accurate diagnosis more quickly. More technology is needed to safeguard patients and ensure accurate record matching.

Every patient in a healthcare provider’s database should have a single, unique, digital identity, one that can be securely trusted and correctly links all past records of care. The right data management company, working along with providers, can facilitate robust, real-time, patient identity validation and authentication.

To learn more, you can read our white paper: “The right patient with the right record: patient linking across healthcare”

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