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Patient identification errors a big problem in U.S.

Patient identification errors are one of the top 10 health safety concerns in Arizona and across the U.S., according to a report by the nonprofit ECRI Institute. The problem is expected to become worse as more and more health care providers switch over to electronic records.

An ECRI representative says examples of patient ID mistakes include being assigned another person's medical records when admitted to a hospital or receiving medication meant for someone else. For instance, a woman was mistaken for her sister-in-law, who has the same first and last name, when she was admitted to the hospital for surgery. The error was discovered before anything harmful occurred, but she continues to be mailed patient satisfaction surveys in her sister-in-law's name.

Positively identifying patients with electronic records can be difficult, according to health care data sharing experts. For example, a 2012 report by the Bipartisan Policy Center found there were 2,488 people named Maria Garcia in one Texas county alone. To make matters more confusing, 231 of those shared a birthday with at least one other Maria Garcia. Concerns over identity theft have discouraged health care providers from using Social Security numbers to identify patients, but some data providers are now including photos to help reduce confusion. Some hospitals are also using fingerprints and iris scans to properly ID patients. Patients are encouraged to verify their full name and birthday each time they visit a health care provider. If medical staff try to administer a test or medication that is unexpected, patients should ask questions.

Doctor errors are a leading cause of patient harm in the U.S. Arizona residents who have been the victim of a medical error may wish to discuss their legal rights with an attorney.

Source: US News, "Surviving a Patient Identification Error," Elizabeth Gardner, Aug. 22, 2016

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