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The Dangers Of Patient Misidentification Leading To Cases Of Medical Malpractice

In 2015, the National Practitioner Data Bank data indicated that Maryland’s rate of suits for malpractice was roughly 21.1 per every 100,000 people for a total cost of $108.6 million. Pennsylvania had a similar rate of 22.7 suits per 100,000 residents; however, the total payout was a staggering $374 million. 

Treatment in the hospital setting has risk potential, despite the procedures in place to maintain patient safety. One possible problem is patient misidentification which can lead to “never events” that are dangerous instances of medical malpractice. Misidentification is a preventable error that may occur from mishaps in documenting a patient’s medical or insurance data somewhere along the continuum of care. ​Approximately 10% of incidents of misidentification lead to adverse events–even death. These errors can lead to billing and insurance mistakes, erroneous treatment, medication-related mishaps and more.

Importance of Accurate Initial Identification

Problems of patient misidentification cost hospitals millions annually in reimbursement from payers and lead to administrative inefficiencies and poor patient care. The process of patient registration is the most likely place for such mistakes. The intake or admissions staff must properly identify the individual, which may be challenging when there are higher incoming patient volumes or in emergency cases of admittance.

Biometric Solution

Imprivata is a medical information technology firm that maintains a world headquarters in Lexington, MA as well as a presence in Europe and Australia. The company launched an electronic system of biometric ID that scans a person’s iris or palm of their hand to properly identify an individual and eliminate the possibility of misidentifying someone. This anatomical identification is capable of integration with electronic health record systems to reduce costly mistakes or medical identification theft. The major barriers to adoption include financial limitations and the reluctance of management to undertake new admission procedures. Over 300 hospitals have implemented the system thus far.

Other Benefits

The system is also a simple means of retroactive record maintenance. Far too often EHR systems will have duplicate records for the same individual, creating often dangerous inaccuracies, or have medical records from separate individuals merged together, such as those with similar names etc. This means of integrating duplicate records is conducted through a Master Patient Index (MPI). There is also a self-check-in feature that saves considerable time for the registration desk and had the capability of operating in conjunction with the majority of patient kiosks.

Recent Trends in Medical Malpractice

According to a CBS News report, the rate of U.S. claims of malpractice has fallen by over 50% between 1992 and 2014. The average amount paid out in these claims did rise by 23% though. Many feel that tort reform may be playing a role in these trends, particularly the implementation of screening panels that now exist in many states. In all likelihood the reduction in claims is a combination of many factors; however, it seems that as further technology is employed across the entire spectrum of medical care, the number of claims should continue to decline.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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