An easy way to prevent dangerous newborn mixups

When hospital patients receive medication, monitoring or other treatment meant for someone else, the results can be harmful or even fatal for either patient - the one who received the treatment in error as well as the one who did not get the treatment that he or she needed.

Newborns can be particularly at risk of patient mix-ups due to the fact that they are unable to speak for themselves and because they are often more similar than adults in their appearance, making it harder for staff to differentiate between them at a glance. Furthermore, when medical errors do occur, newborns' extreme physical vulnerability increases the risk that they will suffer serious harm.

Newborn wristbands can be easily misread

Patient wristbands are one tool that hospitals use to help doctors, nurses and other medical staff to correctly identify patients and avoid potentially dangerous mishaps. Unfortunately, the wristbands that many hospitals use for newborns can further exacerbate the risk of misidentification and wrong-patient errors.

When a baby is born at a hospital, he or she must receive an identification wristband right away, whether or not the parents have decided on a name. If a child is not named immediately after birth, many hospitals handle the identification issue by providing the newborn with a temporary first name such as Babygirl or Babyboy.

While convenient, this method results in greater similarity among baby names and further increases the potential for misidentification, particularly when among infants with similar surnames. For instance, a pair of newborns with wristbands reading Babygirl Johnson and Babygirl Johnston may be easily mixed up by hospital staff, increasing the risk that one may be given the wrong medication, monitored incorrectly or even undergo surgery intended for the other. Misidentification of newborns has even led in some cases to infants being discharged to the wrong families.

An easy fix shows promise

Fortunately, according to a study published recently in the medical journal Pediatrics, hospitals can minimize the risk of infant misidentification by making a simple change to the temporary naming system. By incorporating the mothers' first names in the temporary baby names used for the wristbands, one neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) was able to reduce its number of wrong-patient orders by more than one-third.

In that system, the temporary names given to newborns were based on a combination of the mother's first name and the baby's gender, rather than on gender alone. Thus, baby girls born to Wendy Johnson and Anna Johnston would be named Wendysgirl Johnson and Annasgirl Johnston, respectively, making them more easily distinguishable from one another and reducing the likelihood of wrong-patient medical errors.

Patient mixups pose a threat at any age

For newborns as well as older patients of any age, wrong-patient errors can result in very serious health consequences and sometimes even death. They can occur as a result of simple inattentiveness, transcription errors, verbal misunderstandings, intake mistakes and a wide range of other circumstances.

If you, your child or another member of your family has been harmed as a result of receiving medical treatment intended for someone else, you may be able to receive financial compensation for the considerable costs of dealing with the complications, including medical expenses, lost income and more. Contact the medical malpractice attorneys at Rosenberg, Minc, Falkoff & Wolff, LLP, to learn more.

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