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Patient Safety in Healthcare - 3 Patient Identifiers

Patient Safety in Healthcare: 3 Patient Identifiers

Patient Safety in Healthcare - 3 Patient Identifiers

In healthcare, errors are much more serious than they are in most other fields. In retail, an error might result in someone simply getting the wrong sweater. In medicine, an error can cause a patient’s death, in the worst-case scenario. Because of this, patient safety protocols to prevent errors are critically important. 

Patient Safety in Healthcare - 3 Patient Identifiers

Medical errors are inevitable. Human beings make mistakes. However, there are ways to minimize errors and promote patient safety. Patient identifiers are important in-patient safety protocols as they help ensure that each patient is getting the right treatment. 

Here’s what every medical professional needs to know about patient identifiers and why they’re important. 

Patient Mix-ups: A Common Error 

Doctors and nurses work with many patients on any given day. It’s not safe to expect medical professionals to be able to accurately identify patients without rigorous verification methods. When providers fail to check patients’ identifications or don’t use enough verification methods, it’s very common for mix-ups to occur. 

Patient mix-ups or misidentification errors can have devastating consequences. If a patient is given medication intended for someone else, it could interact with another drug they are taking and produce life-threatening symptoms. Or, a patient could be given a blood transfusion with the wrong blood type. Mix-ups have even resulted in people being sent home with the wrong baby after giving birth! 

There are so many potential consequences when record and patient mix-ups occur, but these errors should be highly preventable. Using multiple patient identifiers to verify a patient’s identity is the best way to make sure that the right treatment plan is used for the correct patient. 

What Are Patient Identifiers? 

Patient identifiers are methods that are used to verify a patient’s identity for treatment and monitoring purposes. Some patient identifiers include: 

  • First and last name 
  • Date of birth 
  • Assigned patient number 
  • Telephone number 

Hospital patients wear medical bracelets to identify them. However, this is simply a location of each patient’s identifying information, not an identifier itself, and must be worn at all times to reliably identify patients. If it is left near a patient instead of on the patient’s person, it cannot be viewed as a reliable source of identifying information.

Generally, providers will ask a patient for verbal confirmation of their identifiers before commencing treatment or providing medications. Medical facilities should also have protocols in place for patients who are unable to confirm their own information verbally. 

What Are NOT Considered Safe Identifiers? 

Information about a patient that could apply to other patients, even in combination, is not considered identifying information. Age, for instance, is not a unique identifier, even in combination with the patient’s name, while the date of birth is. 

Another unacceptable form of identification is a patient’s bed or room number. As these can change quickly, even in the course of a single day, and will ultimately apply to many patients, they are not a reliable way to confirm a patient’s identity. 

Using 3 Identifiers Helps Promote Safety 

In a hospital setting, it’s recommended that providers use two identifiers to ensure that they are working with the right patient and providing the correct treatment. However, adding a third identifier can make the patient care process even safer. 

In cybersecurity, we’re all used to “two-factor authentication” at this point, which helps to safeguard a person’s online information. In the hospital setting, the use of several identifiers (at least two) helps to drastically reduce the opportunity for errors, just as two-factor authentication helps to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive information. 

Moreover, there are various to ensure accurate patient identification – many healthcare providers are using touchless biometric patient identification platforms like RightPatient. The RightPatient platform, for instance, uses patient photos to identify their medical records. By using patient photos, the patient ID platform easily identifies their medical records without errors. 

Electronic Health Record Safety Protocols 

Electronic health records (EHR) have greatly improved patient care since they have achieved widespread use. However, precautions are still required to avoid misidentification errors. The U.S. government has released a checklist that organizations can use to help ensure that their EHR protocols are in line with federal recommendations. 

For example, systems should be set up to clearly display patient information in different views, display only one patient record on the screen at a time, and alert when a potential duplicate record is created. In addition to properly using patient identifiers every single time, it’s important for healthcare organizations to follow best practices for using and maintaining electronic records. 

As more health services go virtual, maintaining proper security and IT protocols will become even more important in healthcare for the purposes of patient privacy and safety. 

Training is Essential 

At the end of the day, safety comes down to personnel. No one is perfect, but proper training is essential and goes a long way toward making hospitals as safe as possible. Everyone working in the hospital, including doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, and medical assistants must understand the importance of ensuring that they are working with the right patient when they provide treatment. 

It’s easy for someone to slip up and assume that they have the right patient without verifying their information. Most of the time, this won’t result in any issues, but in a worst-case scenario, it can be deadly. Anyone involved with caring for patients needs to understand this and receive the necessary training to help ensure patient safety. 

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