Study suggests a link between hospital errors and baby names

A new study suggests that using generic baby names for newborns on hospital ID cards could lead to medical errors.

Using more specific names could lead to a drop in patient misidentification

A fascinating new study suggests that something as simple as a baby's name could play a significant role in reducing medical errors. As Reuters reports, researchers found that when hospitals use more specific names to identify newborn babies who have not yet been given names by their parents then the likelihood of a hospital error occurring because of patient misidentification drops significantly. Experts say that patient misidentification is a leading cause of medical errors, especially in neonatal intensive care units (NICU).

Baby names

As CBS News points out, immediately after a child is born hospital staff must record the newborn's name in its records. If the parents have not yet chosen a name, then the baby is often given a generic name, such as "Babygirl Smith" or "Babyboy Jackson."

The study's authors wanted to find out what-if any-role such generic names played in possible hospital errors. The study looked at "retract and reorder" rates at a Bronx hospital, which occur when a doctor makes an order on a patient's file, quickly retracts it, and then makes the same order on another patient's file. A retract and order instance suggests a "near miss" in terms of hospital errors. For the first half of the two year study the hospital used the generic naming system before switching over to a more specific system that incorporated a newborn mother's name, such as "Jennifersgirl Smith."

"Near misses" drop

The researchers found that the "retract and reorder" rate dropped a substantial 36 percent under the more specific naming system. The researchers acknowledge that part of the drop could be attributed to doctors being aware that the new system was specifically meant to keep track of near misses, thus encouraging them to be more careful about patient orders anyway. Nonetheless, the drop is large enough to suggest that using specific baby names can play a significant role in reducing hospital errors.

Misidentification is a serious safety concern at hospitals, accounting for about 11 percent of hospital errors in NICUs. As safety experts point out, the potential for harm because of misidentification can be serious and, at times, fatal. A doctor may mistakenly order the wrong medication for a particular newborn, for example, because he has been given a generic name that is easily confused with another child's name in the same NICU.

Medical malpractice

Hospital errors are a major problem that often go unreported. While most errors are easily corrected, in some cases a mistake can leave a patient with serious or fatal injuries. Those who have been injured by a potential medical error should contact a medical malpractice attorney immediately. Proving malpractice can be extremely difficult and often requires the assistance of a legal professional who has years of experience handing medical malpractice cases. With such assistance, those who have been injured because of a medical practitioner's possible mistake may be able to get compensation to help them cope with the consequences of their ordeal.