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Recently, a study completed by the Pew Charitable Trusts and Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative found that matching patients to their healthcare records is an ongoing problem in medical facilities across the nation, with match rates being “far below the desired level for effective data exchange.” In some healthcare facilities, the current patient match rate could be as low as 50%.

There are a few ways that medical records errors can lead to medical malpractice. Two of the major forms of patient records errors are mismatched patient records and duplicate patient records, each of which comes with its own set of risks. Here’s what this means:

  1. Mismatched patient records occur when the records of two patients are mixed up by a healthcare provider. Most of the time, this happens with two patients who have a similar name. While this may seem like just a minor inconvenience, it can actually be very dangerous and lead to several adverse consequences. One study found that nearly one in five hospital CIOs attribute at least one adverse event to a patient mismatch in the last 12 months. Other consequences include patient care delays, receiving the wrong surgery or medication, and higher medical costs and recovery time.
  2. Duplicate patient records occur when more than one set of patient records exist for the same patient. Duplicate patient records can result in poor communication between healthcare providers and unnecessary testing or treatments for previously-established health problems. Serious medical errors that can result from duplicate patient records include the following: mistreatment, unnecessary exposure to repeated x-rays, duplicate diagnostic tests, incorrect medication prescription, unintended injury, and time lost in receiving appropriate treatment.

The report also found that medical records errors occur most often in urban health systems, where patients are more likely to visit more than one medical facility. As one of the largest urban areas in the country, this is troubling news to those living in Washington, DC, which already ranks poorly for the prevention of medical errors. Communication and patient records exchange needs to improve between not just medical providers in the same hospital, but different medical facilities as well.

Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States: John Hopkins patient safety experts estimate that more than 250,000 deaths per year are caused by medical errors. Clearly, it is time for urban areas to do better in making strides to prevent future errors from occurring.

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