Patient misidentification—What’s next?

Feb. 28, 2017
Imprivata PatientSecure uses palm vein recognition biometrics to identify patients
Dr. Sean Kelly, Chief Medical Officer, Imprivata

Technological innovations have enabled many great advancements in the medical field, but new advancements often come with a new set of problems. For example, when healthcare transitioned from traditional paper health records to digital electronic health records (EHRs), the industry saw many benefits including improved patient care, enhanced care coordination, increased patient participation, and additional cost savings. However, EHRs also have contributed to the rampant patient misidentification crisis, which carries significant consequences that negatively impact both patient care and hospitals’ financial performance.

To better understand the growing patient misidentification crisis, Imprivata recently released the 2016 National Patient Misidentification Report in collaboration with the Ponemon Institute. The report, which surveyed more than 500 top-level healthcare executives and care providers across the United States to specifically examine patient misidentification and its impact, yielded many eye-opening results, further illuminating just how devastating patient misidentification can be to the industry as a whole.

Patient safety risks are the most obvious concern related to patient misidentification. The foundation of effective healthcare is dependent upon positive patient identification in order to provide the right care, to the right patient, at the right time. Not having access to the correct information in a patient medical chart can result in misidentification and potentially serious medical errors. Some of the data points that are most essential, like medication history and allergy information, can be easily overlooked or even omitted in an EHR. A staggering 86% of survey respondents reported they have witnessed or know of a medical error that was the result of patient misidentification. In addition, 84% of respondents strongly agreed or agreed that misidentifying a patient can lead to medical errors or adverse events.

Similarly, physician productivity suffers as a result of patient misidentification. 69% of respondents agreed that up to or more than 30 minutes per shift are spent contacting medical records or health information management departments to get critical information about their patients. What’s more, the patient experience suffers. Correcting or getting additional patient information due to a misidentification issue contributes to delays in care, resulting in unhappy patients.

The financial implications of patient misidentification also are significant. For instance, the average healthcare facility loses $17.4 million per year in denied claims and potential lost revenue due to patient misidentification. 65% of respondents involved in the financial aspects of healthcare organizations believe denied claims have a very significant or significant impact on accounts receivable. Furthermore, an average of 35% of denied hospital claims are attributed to inaccurate patient identification or inaccurate and incomplete patient information.

The root of patient misidentification

Patient identification errors can stem from a multitude of sources, but the most frequent is incorrect identification at registration. According to 63% of respondents, most misidentification occurs when the patient is being registered for a visit or procedure. Another primary cause for identification errors is the time pressure faced by nurses, physicians, and physician assistants when treating patients. Other common causes include registration errors, silo issues across departments and workflows, inadequate safety procedures, over reliance on obsolete identification systems, and patient behavioral issues.

According to 64% of respondents, a patient is misidentified in the typical healthcare facility very frequently. The following errors are common in most healthcare facilities:

  • inability to find a patient’s chart or medical record,
  • a search or query that results in multiple or duplicate medical records for that patient,
  • a patient is associated with an incorrect record because of the same name and/or date of birth, and/or
  • the wrong record is pulled up for a patient because another record in the registration system or digital record has the same name and/or date of birth.

The biometric solution 

Biometrics can serve as an effective and easy solution to the patient misidentification problem. Palm vein recognition is one of the safest, most accurate biometric identification methods available on the market. Moreover, biometric positive patient identification techniques have a high acceptance rate among patients because they are less intrusive and more user-friendly than standard patient identifiers. 77% of respondents agreed that positive patient identification through biometrics could reduce overall medical errors by reducing patient misidentification.

Imprivata PatientSecure is a biometric identification solution that uses palm vein recognition biometrics to accurately identify patients at any point of entry to care. This creates a direct link between patients’ unique palm vein scans and their individual medical records. Patients simply scan their palm at any point of care, including outpatient, inpatient, and emergency departments where patients can be unconscious, and Imprivata PatientSecure software quickly and accurately identifies the patient and automatically retrieves their unique medical record.

Secure text messaging can also serve as an effective solution to patient misidentification. Although The Joint Commission (TJC) recently reversed its decision to allow text messaging of patient orders, secure text messaging that works with verbal orders can provide increased clinical efficiency and patient safety by enabling providers to clarify and document verbal interactions and communicate the many patient care issues around orders. Imprivata Cortext is a secure texting solution that continues to meet and exceed TJC’s standards and adoption is growing at a rapid rate.

Positive patient identification can be key to enabling interoperability—a continued goal in the healthcare industry. The Healthcare Information and Management System Society defines interoperability as the extent to which systems and devices can exchange data and interpret that shared data. For two systems to be deemed interoperable, they must be able to exchange data and present that data so that it can be understood by a user. If patients are identified accurately and consistently, the industry can establish a ubiquitous trust for patient identity that will allow the exchange of patient data across disparate systems to become a reality.

Technology will undoubtedly continue to influence and evolve healthcare in the coming years. As a result, it is imperative that we have solutions in place, and use those solutions, to address the modern-day challenges hospitals face, like patient misidentification. In order to promote cost savings, increased efficiency, and patient safety, we need to invest in technologies, like biometrics, to improve the accuracy of patient information. With thoughtful and careful implementations, there is no limit to what technology in healthcare can achieve.

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