The Pivotal Role of Reporting in
Preventing Patient Identification Errors

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Patient misidentification is a prevalent patient safety concern. It is an ever-present risk that can inadvertently lead to other clinical incidents, potentially causing harm to patients. Addressing patient misidentification is crucial for enhancing patient safety and preventing adverse events. Despite efforts to prevent wrong-patient errors, mistakes continue to occur.


This blog article looks at some common patient ID errors and calls attention to the underlying systemic issues and challenges facing the industry. It highlights the pivotal role of incident reporting in preventing patient misidentification.

Common Patient ID Errors

Wrong-patient errors can occur in various forms and situations within healthcare settings, posing significant risks to patient safety and care quality. Here are some common types of patient ID errors:


  • Name confusion: Mistaking one patient for another due to similar or identical names. This can happen when patients have similar names or when names are misspelled or misunderstood.


  • Wristband errors: Incorrect information on patient wristbands, such as name, date of birth, or medical record number, can result in patient ID errors during treatment or procedures.


  • Mix-ups during registration: Errors can occur during the registration process when patients provide incorrect information or when healthcare staff enter data inaccurately into the system.


  • Failure to confirm identity: Health workers may fail to properly confirm a patient’s identity before administering treatments, medications, or procedures, leading to errors in care delivery. 


  • Medication administration errors: Wrong-patient medication orders is another common patient ID error. Mistakes can arise due to low adherence to ID protocols, “batching” multiple orders to check at a time and bar-code system glitches. ID confirmation on outpatient may be less vigorous.


  • Handoff and transfer errors: During patient handoff between health workers or shifts, or transfer to other department or facility, information may be miscommunicated or misunderstood, leading to errors in patient ID and care continuity.

  • Duplicate records or EHR errors: The creation of duplicate medical records for the same patient can lead to fragmented or incomplete information and potential errors in care delivery. Mistakes in electronic health record systems, such as selecting the wrong patient profile or linking data to the incorrect patient, can result in patient ID errors.

Underlying System Weaknesses

Patient ID errors often reveal the underlying system weaknesses, rather than simply attributable to human errors. The following are some examples of systemic errors and flaws in healthcare systems, processes, or protocols that fail to adequately verify patient identity and contribute to recurring identification errors.


  1. Absent of clear patient ID policies
    Lack of standardization and inconsistent processes for patient ID across different departments or facilities can increase the likelihood of errors. Healthcare providers should set clear policies, processes, and protocols on patient ID. Monitor and review the safety practices regularly to ensure the policies are always followed and adhered to.

  2. Poor wristband design and usability
    Wristbands are critical for patient ID confirmation, particularly for young and incapacitated patients (ed. sedated patients in the operating room). However, several studies have shown identifier designs to be problematic or flaw, such as illegibility (small print, handwritten, ink smudging), degradation with use (water exposure), inappropriate size (bands too narrow for printed ID stickers), and lack of consistency for colour coding.

  3. Staff fatigue, distractions, and time constraints
    Even with clear patient ID policies in place, staff fatigue, distractions, and time constraints can contribute to patient ID errors. These factors pose systemic challenges to healthcare organizations. Ensuring a safe working environment, adequate staffing, and efficient workflow design that minimizes distractions can help to reduce errors. Having an uninterrupted pause for designated staff to perform the final identity check before a CT scan is one such measure.

  4. Ineffective interdepartmental communication
    In high-risk situations such as ER and CT suite, improving the safety and efficiency of transfer protocols between departments (eg. Emergency Department and Radiology) can reduce the risk of patient misidentification.

  5. Inadequate staff training and safety awareness
    Non-compliance or low adherence to existing patient ID protocols by staff may indicate inadequate staff training and a lack of safety awareness.

  6. Technological failures
    Malfunctioning or inadequate technology, such as bar code scanners or electronic health record (EHR) systems, can contribute to identification errors.


Each of the above error types highlights the importance of having a robust patient identification system to address systemic issues and organizational weaknesses. Ensuring accurate patient identification requires a multifaceted, integral systems approach, not ad hoc and fragmented strategies.

Cascading of Errors

Patient ID errors can lead to other patient safety incidents, with potentially grave consequences. When health workers fail to promptly discover that a patient is wrongly identified, it can lead to a cascade of errors. Wrong-patient mistakes could lead to the following clinical incidents, causing patient harm.


  • Medication errors: Incorrect patient ID may result in administering medications intended for one patient to another. This can lead to adverse drug reactions.


  • Misdiagnosis and treatment errors: If health workers do not correctly identify patients, they may make errors in diagnosis and treatment plans. This can result in unnecessary procedures, delays in appropriate treatment, or even incorrect treatments being administered.


  • Incorrect procedures: Patient mismatch can lead to performing procedures on the wrong patient or the wrong body part. This can result in unnecessary harm to patients and additional procedures to correct the mistakes.

  • Transfusion errors: In situations where blood transfusions are required, failure to correctly identify the patient can result in transfusing the wrong blood type or blood product, leading to severe complications including hemolytic reactions.

The Role of Reporting in Preventing Patient ID Errors

Incident reporting is an essential part of your organization’s strategies to prevent patient ID mismatches and improve patient safety. It provides a systematic approach to capture, analyze, and take improvement actions to prevent errors from recurring. Here’s how incident reporting contributes to addressing patient ID issues:


  • Early Detection of Errors:
    Reporting on patient ID incidents and near misses allows your organization to identify and document instances of patient mismatches as soon as they occur. This early detection can alert the Quality Management team to intervene promptly and take corrective actions.


  • Investigation and Root Cause Analysis:
    After an incident is reported, based on the results of the risk assessment, the Quality Management team can conduct a thorough investigation and root cause analysis to determine the underlying contributing factors to the patient ID error. This analysis helps to identify the root cause and reveal systemic issues, such as the absence of clear policies, inadequate processes, lack of staff training, or technological shortcomings.


  • Process and Quality Improvement Initiatives:
    Insights gained from incident reports and RCA can be used to improve existing processes and procedures related to patient identification. This may involve implementing innovative technologies, updating policies, streamlining processes, providing additional staff training, and engaging patients and their families.


  • Raising Safety Awareness:
    Encouraging staff to report patient ID incidents and near misses can help to raise safety awareness. Having a positive safety culture is essential to the success of your patient ID program. Incident data and trends can highlight areas where staff may require additional training or education to improve their understanding of proper patient ID protocols.

  • Technological Enhancements:
    Incident reports can bring attention to issues related to the use of technology in patient identification. Ensure the safe use of patient care technology to prevent wrong-patient mistakes, while addressing its limitations.  Analysis of incident trends may prompt healthcare organizations to incorporate strategies to improve the usability of health IT systems and to minimize the risk of human errors.


Correctly identifying patients at every step of clinical care is vital to patient safety. However, despite the priority placed on patient ID by various global health agencies, the problems persist. It would be overly simplistic to attribute wrong-patient incidents to human errors. Often, there are underlying systemic issues and weaknesses. Healthcare leaders should recognize these and take comprehensive strategies to address the challenges. Incident reporting should be an integral part of that strategy.

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QUASR is a cloud-based healthcare incident reporting system. It offers functionalities that encourage Patient Identification Error reporting, facilitate collaboration, enable analysis, and track actions.

Click the link below to download!

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