J. TUCKER MERRIGAN
A study recently completed by Pew Charitable Trusts and the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative (MAeHC) has revealed that matching patients to their healthcare records is an ongoing problem in healthcare facilities across the nation. In fact, researchers found that match rates are “far below the desired level for effective data exchange.” Alarmingly, many companies reviewed in the survey could not pinpoint their match rates: they simply do not know. In some organizations, the current patient match rate may be as low as 50% to 60%.
Mismatched patient records occur when two patients, often with a similar name, have their records mixed up by a healthcare provider. Mismatching patient records are more than just inconvenient. It can lead to a number of detrimental consequences, with one study finding that nearly 20% of hospital CIOs say they can attribute at least one adverse event to a patient mismatch within the last year. Other complications include:
- Delays in patient care
- Patients receiving the wrong surgery
- Patients receiving the wrong medication
- Higher medical costs
One particularly serious patient mismatch incident occurred at Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Mass in 2016. Surgeons removed a man’s kidney that they thought was cancerous. In reality, there was a mix-up with CT scans between him and a patient with a similar name, and they were operating on the wrong patient. Ultimately, the incident resulted in the accidental removal of a healthy kidney, forcing the patient to undergo the surgical and recovery process for a tumor he did not have.
Duplicate patient records, another type of medical records error, occurs when multiple patient records exist for the same patient. Duplicate patient records are costly and can lead to poor communication between healthcare providers and unnecessary testing or treatments. If information in the duplicate medical records is missing or incorrect, a number of serious medical errors can occur:
- Mistreatment due to an incorrectly documented blood type
- Unnecessary repeated x-ray exposure or duplicate diagnostic tests
- Prescription of incorrect medication
- Unintended injury or illness
- Time lost in receiving the right treatment
The Pew and MAeHC also found that medical records errors are more prevalent within urban health systems, where patients are more likely to receive care at multiple facilities. This indicates a need for better data exchange and communication not just within medical facilities, but between them.