What’s in a name?

Where your medical record is concerned, everything. Every time you enter the healthcare system, they start by entering your name. You are literally putting your life in the hands of the registrar sitting at the desk across from you. You are assuming that they are getting your name right and that you are presenting yourself the same way you did last time you entered the healthcare system.

America has always been a melting pot, embracing immigrants from all over the world, but that doesn’t mean we understand the naming conventions of foreign countries or that we are any good at spelling foreign sounding names.

Spanish naming customs as historical traditions for naming children practiced in Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries. According to these customs, a person’s name consists of a given name followed by two family names (surnames). The first surname is usually the father’s first surname, and the seconds is the mother’s first surname. In recent years, the order of the surnames can be reversed at birth if it is so decided by the parents. Often, the practice is to use one given names and the first surname only, with the full name being used in legal, formal, and documentary matters, or for disambiguation when the first surname is very common (e.g., Jose Garcia Mesa).

In contrast, many Asian naming customs have the last or family name presented before the first or given name. Several studies (Bohensky et al., 2011b; Campbell, 2009; Duvall et all, 2010; Fournel et al.,2009) have indicated that matched vital records with inpatient and outpatient medical records using probabilistic matching on participant names have more errors with foreign names. They found that Hispanic, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Navajo and Arabic names were more likely to be false positives in their analyses of duplicate records. The authors suggested that it was likely that ethnic names, unfamiliar to registration clerks and other hospital staff, would have increased occurrences of misspellings. Also, the fields for each person’s name consisted of a first name, middle name and last name, which may be unsuitable in many cultures. When visiting a clinic or doctor’s office, the registrar could enter your name any number of ways. On the second visit, how can the patient or healthcare provider be sure the right patient is selected?

Most importantly – it’s a SAFETY issue. We know that from other statistics (here, and here) that we’ve seen through the years from key healthcare organizations like CHIME, HIMSS, and AHIMA.

  • 8-12% of hospitals’ medical records are duplicates
  • On average: 64,000 – 96,000 medical records in an EMR (system) refer to a patient with another existing medical record
  • The average cost associated with repeated medical care – $1,009
  • Kaiser Permanente of Southern California has over 10,000 records of people named Maria Gonzales
  • HIMSS: 8-14% of medical records include erroneous information tied to an incorrect patient identity

What to do about it? Maybe it is time to integrate smart-cards and bio-metrics into the hospital registration process. Thousands of patients rely on Privasent to protect their privacy and the accuracy of their electronic health records (EHRs). The Privasent solution uses patented, web-based applications and processes to ensure that patients are uniquely identified and that identity is linked to their EHRs. Privasent can be implemented as a stand-alone solution for an individual healthcare provider or as a national, regional or state government tool for linking EHRs and unique identity in a heath information exchange, regardless of how many names a patient might have. It is time to be absolutely certain about your healthcare identity and care history. Without Privasent, you can’t be sure.

About the Author:

Debra Fryar is a blogger for Privasent and advocate for proper patient identification in a new age of healthcare tech.

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