ECRI study shines a spotlight on medical errors due to patient misidentification

Clay Ritchey
Oct 11, 2016

Mistakes can happen. But, in healthcare, how often do medical errors related to patient misidentification occur and at what cost? According to recent research by ECRI and other organizations, an alarmingly high percentage of medical errors stem from wrong patient identification and 9% of those errors result in a wide range of negative patient outcomes from temporary patient harm to actual loss of life. For patients, it’s a gamble they neither intend – nor want – to make. And for providers, it’s an opportunity to improve care coordination in our nation’s healthcare system. In a digital healthcare world, patient misidentification is becoming a fundamental barrier to interoperability and the safe flow and use of digital patient health information.   

Analyzing Wrong-Patient Errors 

Analyzing more than 7,600 cases of “wrong-patient errors” occurring at 181 healthcare organizations, ECRI Institute’s Patient Safety Organization (PSO) recently released their Deep Dive: Patient Identification report, which shines much needed light on the pervasive and growing issue of patient identification errors at registration and the point of care.

It’s undeniable -- misidentifying patients is "a huge problem that the general public isn't aware of," said William Marella, executive director for operations and analytics at ECRI’s PSO. Marella also noted that, “pretty much every clinician involved in your healthcare is at risk of making this kind of error." And he’s 100% right. Medical errors currently rank as the third highest cause of preventable death in the country and we’ve reached a crisis-level when it comes to errors of misidentification.

Specifically, nearly 30% of all medication errors stem from wrong patient identification, according to the Patient Safety Authority. What’s worse, the Department of Veterans Affairs reports that 68% of all laboratory errors are due to patient misidentification. Moreover, the JCN - Clinical Journal of Nursing cites that 850 patients in the U.S. each year receive blood not intended for them because of an identification mix up, with 20 of them dying as a result. This is simply unacceptable, and downright frightening, given all we have done over the past few years to digitize our healthcare system.

These figures unfortunately shouldn’t come as any surprise to caregivers. Increasing patient caseloads and increasing data sharing among providers requires a new approach to care coordination. To truly combat wrong-patient errors, healthcare organizations today need to use technologies to identify patients beyond antiquated tools such as bed or room number and wristbands. To keep patients safe in today’s fast-paced, value-driven environment, healthcare organizations need to embrace positive patient identification leveraging proven biometric solutions enabling strong, two factor authentication to identify patients throughout the care continuum.

All the data points to the fact that the industry needs to embrace new technologies to make sure caregivers have access to timely and accurate patient information at the point of care. But without the right technology and processes to ensure positive patient identification we are only solving for half the equation, and the risk can be someone’s life.

Imprivata PatientSecure

Learn more about how Imprivata PatientSecure is using the power of biometric identification to combat errors and save lives on a daily basis at organizations like Carolinas Health and see here for more information on the ECRI Institute PSO Deep Dive: Patient Identification report.