OBJECTIVE. To quantify the potential for misidentification among NICU patients resulting from similarities in patient names or hospital medical record numbers (MRNs).

METHODS. A listing of all patients who received care in 1 NICU during 1 calendar year was obtained from the unit's electronic medical record system. A patient day was considered at risk for misidentification when the index patient shared a surname, similar-sounding surname, or similar MRN with another patient who was cared for in the NICU on that day.

RESULTS. During the 1-year study period, 12186 days of patient care were provided to 1260 patients. The unit's average daily census was 33.4; the maximum census was 48. Not a single day was free of risk for patient misidentification. The mean number of patients who were at risk on any given day was 17 (range: 5–35), representing just over 50% of the average daily census. During the entire calendar year, the risk ranged from 20.6% to a high of 72.9% of the average daily census. The most common causes of misidentification risk were similar-appearing MRNs (44% of patient days). Identical surnames were present in 34% of patient days, and similar-sounding names were present in 9.7% of days. Twins and triplets contributed one third of patient days in the NICU. After these multiple births were excluded from analysis, 26.3% of patient days remained at risk for misidentification. Among singletons, the contribution to misidentification risk of similar-sounding surnames was relatively unchanged (9.1% of patient days), whereas that of similar MRNs and identical surnames decreased (17.6% and 1.0%, respectively).

CONCLUSIONS. NICU patients are frequently at risk for misidentification errors as a result of similarities in standard identifiers. This risk persists even after exclusion of multiple births and is substantially higher than has been reported in other hospitalized populations.

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