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The way hospitals identify newborns can lead to errors

This article looks at how a hospital’s naming conventions for newborns may play into patient identification errors.

Recent study shows that using generic naming convention increases risks

Something as simple as a newborn’s name may have a significant impact on reducing medical errors, a new study reported on by CBS News suggests. The study found that retract-and-reorder events, which usually happen when a medical error is narrowly avoided, declined after one hospital switched from using a generic naming convention for unnamed newborns to a more specific system. The decrease suggests that patient misidentification, one of the leading causes of hospital errors, could be reduced if hospitals apply more specific names to newborns.

Naming conventions

When a child is born the hospital must give him or her a name as soon as possible in order to open up a patient file. In some cases, of course, the parents may still be undecided about a name, in which case the hospital usually gives the child a temporary generic name, such as “Babygirl Haines” or “Babyboy Douglas.”

Researchers, however, wanted to know if such generic names were having an effect on patient misidentification rates. In a study published in the journal Pediatrics, the researchers tracked retract-and-reorder (RAR) events, whereby a clinician makes an order for a patient, quickly retracts it, and soon makes the same order for another patient, both before and after a New York hospital began incorporating the mother’s name into the newborn’s name (i.e., “Jennifersgirl Mallory” instead of “Babygirl Mallory”). RAR events, while not errors themselves, do suggest that a mistake was narrowly avoided.

Tackling misidentification

The study found that using the more specific naming system led to a 36 percent drop in RAR events, suggesting how babies are named by hospitals could have a big impact on reducing identification errors. The researchers involved in the study noted that misidentification is estimated to be a factor in about 11 percent of hospital errors.

As NPR points out, for babies who are in the neonatal intensive care unit, getting their names right can be a matter of life and death. While the study only looked at computerized orders, the results would likely have implications for all areas of neonatal care. Reading patient charts properly, retrieving the correct formula from a fridge, and dealing with poor lighting conditions could all be affected by something as simple as a newborn’s name.

Medical malpractice

While medical errors have gone down in recent years, they are still a major problem and one that is exacerbated by the fact that, according to one estimate, doctors typically report just one percent of the mistakes they make. While most mistakes may not cause any harm, some can prove dangerous and even fatal. For those who have been injured by a clinician’s possible negligence, a medical malpractice attorney can help. An experienced and qualified attorney will be able to guide clients through the legal ramifications of their ordeal, including whether they may be able to pursue compensation.

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