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How common are medical record mix-ups?

Medical malpractice happens in various ways, with mistakes taking place all the way from administrative staff to surgeons. Common causes you may already be aware of are misdiagnosis, incorrect dosage of medication or anesthesia, surgical errors and birth injuries.

Another common one is mixing up medical records. It may sound like something off a sitcom or soap opera, but unfortunately, it happens more often than you may think. The RAND Corporation puts the rate at eight percent, reports STAT news. This number may seem low, but when you consider how many patients there are in the nation, you can see how it is problematic. Also, not everyone reports mix-ups, especially when someone catches the mistake before harm occurs.

How do mix-ups happen?

A major cause of mixing up medical records seems to be issues with communication between computer systems in different departments and facilities. Other reasons include:

  • Staff mislabeling the patient
  • Hospitals and providers using different ID systems
  • Patients having the same or similar names
  • Staff entering or writing the wrong information
  • Transitioning from paper to electronic records

Often, double-checking ID information with patients can prevent a mistake, but what about cases where a patient is unable to confirm his or her ID?

Possible solutions

One solution is to connect photos with records so that medical providers can ensure the people they treat match the patient photos. Pictures can make errors obvious when the age, gender or ethnicity does not match. Other proposals are to use a biometric standard (for example, a handprint) or two forms of identification.

Another popular idea is to use a unique ID, as the nation does with Social Security numbers. However, this has received lots of resistance from parties concerned about the privacy and security of patient information, especially in the digital world. A counter suggestion is to implement encrypted health cards. Improving computer systems and algorithms may also help, particularly with systems that hold lots of data.

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