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How Hospital Administrative Errors Can Kill

People are dying in the hospital--and not necessarily because of the illness or disease that brought them in. Earlier this year, The Washington Post reported medical errors as the third leading cause of death in the United States. Patient identification mix-ups are often to blame for these unfortunate errors.

Here are seven reasons patient identification mix-ups happen in the hospital:

1. Duplicate records. Growing pressure on check-in personnel to register new patients as quickly as possible means a higher likelihood of errors in patient records. Additionally, creative spelling and complex names further complicate the issue. When "Mari" becomes "Mary," a new record is created. If one letter is missed in "Schwarzenegger," a new record is created. And duplicate records will lack important information.

2. Data sharing. While the use of electronic records has its benefits, it also offers new complications. There may be only one "Mari Schwarzenegger" in the hospital, but there could be a dozen Mari Schwarzeneggers in the country. And with electronic records accessible throughout the U.S., mix-ups are likely to happen. Something as simple as omitting a "Jr." or "Sr." on a medical record can wreak havoc on a patient's health.

3. Entry error. Human error--while understandable--is a costly mistake if it affects someone's life or health. Entering the correct verbal orders on the wrong medical chart can be the difference between life and death.

4. Overburdened physicians. With workloads heavier than they've ever been, doctors and nurses don't have the capacity to take the necessary time when asking questions, verifying information, and reporting results.

5. Shared rooms. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for medication to be dispensed to the wrong roommate. Whether this is the result of absentmindedness or miscommunication, it happens. Comatose or confused patients are particularly at risk for this kind of error.

6. Language barriers. Especially if a clinic, office or hospital isn't staffed with translators, the risk of entry error is high. A question to the patient or an answer to the health care provider can be easily misunderstood. Stress and illness--both common in a health care setting--only complicate the situation.

7. Faulty process. Failure to provide I.D. bands or verify the information recorded on them can result in identification mistakes. Not asking the patient the right questions--or for enough information--can lead to confusion. Calling a patient "Mrs. Smith," for instance, may be accurate, but is she the only "Mrs. Smith" in the hospital?

While medical mistakes are no secret, the sad truth is--for the most part, they are easily avoidable. Patient identification mistakes, specifically, can be averted with careful protocol and militant compliance. Unfortunately, this doesn't always happen. If you or someone you love has been injured by a medical mistake, speak with a qualified personal injury attorney to learn what options you have.

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