It is a lesson we try to teach children from a very young age: Everyone is a unique individual, with his or her own strengths and weaknesses, and nothing can change that. Wrong-patient procedures, however, challenge that notion. Once a patient enters a hospital, he or she stands a good chance of becoming just another face (or number) in the crowd.
Wrong-patient procedures occur when a patient undergoes some type of screening or treatment intended for another patient. Similar to wrong-site surgeries, they are perhaps even more pervasive because they are not limited to surgical procedures. Many wrong-patient cases involve a medical professional dispensing a drug to the incorrect patient. The drug could interact with other medications the patient is taking and result in anything from reduced effectiveness of the medication to death.
Surgeons, nurses, and pharmacists are not the only culprits. Mistakes early in the diagnosis and treatment process can have horrific effects on multiple patients. In one case, a woman was told by her doctor that she had breast cancer and that she should undergo radical treatment. As a result of her doctor’s advice, the patient underwent a double mastectomy. She later learned that the pathologist had switched her test results with those of another woman. Not only had she undergone unnecessary and painful surgery and mental anguish- she rightly claims that she has been “maimed for life” – but the other woman who did have cancer went untreated for an undisclosed length of time.
Wrong-patient procedures are disturbing reminders of the human cost of our search for efficiency in health care. Individual patients pay the price when professionals try to rush through treatments without developing a connection with the victim. Your life and health are at stake – take an active role in your health care, ask questions, and make sure your doctor knows who you are and what your condition is.