Patient Misidentification Remains Common

The following information was released several weeks ago, but I just found it and thought readers would still find it relevant. The research, from security researcher Ponemon Institute, concludes that patient misidentification is relatively common and continues to impact patient safety and experience.

Late last year, Ponemon surveyed 503 healthcare professionals from across the US, including nurses, physicians, IT practitioners and leaders in financial operations, on the frequency and root causes of patient misidentification, as well as the consequences.

According to the researchers, 86% of respondents said they’d witnessed or know of medical errors resulting from patient misidentification. And 67% said that when searching for patient information, they find duplicate medical records for that patient almost all of the time. Along the way, about three-quarters of respondents agreed that use of biometrics could reduce patient misidentification and by extension, cut down on medical errors.

The most common root cause of patient misidentification was incorrect identification at registration (chosen by 63%), followed by time pressure when treating patients (60%), insufficient employee/clinician training and awareness (35%), too many duplicate medical records in system (34%), registrar errors (32%), turf wars between departments (29%), inadequate safety procedures (20%), over-reliance on homegrown or obsolete identification systems (15%) and misinformation provided by patient (9%). (The remaining 3% was reported as “other”.)

The key causes of misidentification named in the survey included the inability to find a patient’s chart or medical record (68% of respondents), a search or query which brings up multiple or duplicate medical records for a patient (67%), patient associated with incorrect records due to same names and/or dates of birth (56%), or having the wrong record pulled up for a patient because another record in the registration system or EMR has the same name and/or date of birth (61%).

Not surprisingly, the survey also suggests that widespread patient misidentification can have a serious financial impact. On average, Ponemon says, respondents said that more than one-third of all denied claims resulted directly from an inaccurate patient identification or inaccurate/incomplete information. This costs the average healthcare facility $1.2 million per year, they reported.

Meanwhile, patient identification problems have a negative impact on patient experience, the survey concluded. Sixty-nine percent of respondents told researchers that staff spent up to or more than 30 minutes per shift contacting medical records or HIM departments to get critical patient information.

Not only that, misidentifying patients can have a ripple effect, with missing or incomplete information leading to patient care delays. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said that they spent an hour or more contacting medical records or HIM departments to get critical patient information.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.


  • Its a huge problem. Should have been solved before any talk about interop of medical records and that only further complicates the problem by disseminating wrong info out to the world and being unable to get it back. Anyone with a hint of database experience would never have expected disparate databases to be able to exchange info without unique primary keys, hence unique IDs for patients. The way its done now is VERY prone to error and once the info is CCD’d out to the world HIE’d up, and blasted out, how do you get it back? How do you say oops, Mrs Smith does not have prostate cancer to every place that had your note/report go to them? Big problems.

    Further, insurance companies have really did some naughty things lately to make mis-ID even more common. They use Letter O and number 0 in in varying parts of IDs, along with capital I and which looks like number 1. Yes, they do this. Name almost any major insurer, they do it. The other day I had an ID of JRI0058OD2VU… yes what is figure that one out.
    Just another way to delay payment, or be able to say, duplicate claim, after you correct it and send it back in. Classic.

  • Having spoken to some vendors and Doctors about this problem, here is the conundrum. Vendors want to – and can easily – put database checks to prevent such errors. Then clinics and staff complain because it ‘slows’ down the workflow. I have heard people say, just give me a way to quickly register a patient. I know my patients. I don’t have time for this system checking duplicates, warning me that a patient with similar demographics exists…

    So, what do vendors do? Relax the controls!

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