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Wrong Patient

Wrong Patient

How often do doctors mix up and treat the wrong patient?

Patients sharing the same first or last name. Similar soundIng names. Misreading the patient identification number. In this day and age you would not have thought it possible. Yet it happens more times than we realise.

One patient was expecting cataract surgery and came out of surgery having had a lens implanted which was intended for another patient.

Another patient having a heart attack was not resuscitated because clinicians confused him with a patient who had a ‘do not resuscitate’ order on file. Another undertook surgery based on the wrong patients records and was found dead in his bed the next day. A patient who was not to eat or drink was given a meal tray for the wrong patient and almost choked. The list goes on and on.

How is it possible to be the wrong patient?

It is easier than you think according to a new report on patient identification by ECRI Institute Patient Safety Organisation (Preventable, Potentially Fatal Patient Identification Errors). Identification errors happen all the time according to a new report. Apparently it is a known problem in healthcare but the public are largely unaware.

The researchers analysed 7,63 patient safety events and looked to see what went wrong and the consequences that ensued. There were 1,752 patient identification cases.

The World Health Organisation has also recognised that misidentification is a threat that can cause medication errors, transfusion errors, testing errors, wrong person procedures and the discharge of infants to wrong families.

The report found that 13% of identification errors occurred during registration when a duplicate record may be created. A third occurred during diagnostic tests such as x-rays and lab work. Some 22% occurred during treatment or procedures.

Why do Wrong Patient Errors Occur?

Limitations on working hours meaning more handovers of patients and a lack of human factors training contribute to wrong patient errors. Collecting information on wrong patient errors means that hospitals can understand why it happens so frequently.

Dr Handley, Director of Handley Law commented

“the most effective ways of preventing wrong patient problems vary but healthcare leaders need to be proactive to address the problems and flaws for a very simple error and anchor safety into the system. This report demonstrates that despite great initiatives to enhance patient safety hospitals are coming up short on the basics”.

If you have been a victim of wrong patient treatment then get in touch with us on 0800 470 2009 or email Dr Handley at

If you have suffered harm as a result of being the wrong patient then contact us for help and advice.  It costs nothing to find out if you have a claim.


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