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Patient identification

Patient identification and the matching of a patient to an intended treatment is performed routinely in all care settings. Incorrect identification can result in wrong person, wrong site procedures, medication errors, transfusion errors and diagnostic testing errors.

Safety routines for patient identification

Risks to patient safety occur when there is a mismatch between a given patient and components of their care, whether these components are diagnostic, therapeutic or supportive. Throughout health care, the failure to correctly identify patients and match that information to an intended clinical intervention continues to result in adverse outcomes

There are many causes of errors related to patient identification and procedure matching and a wide range of strategies have been proposed to address them. The Commission has focused on the standardisation of processes and development of safety routines for the common tasks needed for patient identification.

These safety routines allow the workforce to focus their attention on those activities that require more cognitive processing and judgement, such as the provision of clinical care.

One of the key drivers for the standardisation of patient identification processes is the Communicating for Safety Standard, in the NSQHS Standards (second edition).


The widespread use of barcodes, radio frequency identification devices (RFID) and other biometric devices in other industries  resulted in attempts to introduce such approaches in health care. Experience overseas  demonstrated the relatively high cost of introduction, the importance of effective implementation methodologies and the influence of the commercial market.

To support the uptake of appropriate technological solutions in Australia, in 2008 the Commission commissioned a Review of Technology Solutions to Patient Misidentification to investigate the current use an potential benefits of technological solutions to patient mis-identification in the Australian healthcare setting and its application to safety and quality.

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