Throughout the healthcare industry, the failure to correctly identify patients continues to result in medication errors, transfusion errors, testing errors, wrong person procedures, and the discharge of infants to the wrong families.

The practice of having the patient involved in identifying themselves and using “two patient identifiers” is essential in improving the reliability of the patient’s identification process. The use of two identifiers also helps ensure that a correct match is made between the service or treatment and the individual. This process will help eliminate errors and enhance patient care.

Patient identifier options include:

  • Name
  • Assigned identification number (e.g., medical record number)
  • Date of birth
  • Phone number
  • Social security number
  • Address
  • Photo

The two identifiers must be directly associated with the individual and the same two identifiers associated with the medication, blood product, specimen container (attached label), treatment, or procedure.

Patients may wonder why their identity is confirmed so often. Staff members should always explain that it is done to ensure the right care is provided to the right patient all the time.


What you can do:

  • Know that you have a primary responsibility to check the identity of patients and match the correct patients with the correct care (e.g., laboratory results, specimens, procedures) before that care is administered. Every time.
  • Use at least two identifiers (e.g., name and date of birth), according to the standards/policies of your facility, to verify a patient’s identity upon admission or transfer to another hospital or other care setting and prior to the administration of care. Neither of these identifiers should be the patient’s room number.
  • Use active communication whenever possible and ask the patient to state his or her full name and date of birth. (e.g., “Can you tell me your name and date of birth?” not “Mr. Smith I have your medicine for you.”)
  • Know and use the protocols for identifying patients who lack identification and for distinguishing the identity of patients with the same name.
  • Know and use non-verbal approaches for identifying comatose or confused patients.
  • Educate patients on the importance and relevance of correct patient identification in a positive fashion that also respects concerns for privacy.
  • Encourage patients and their families or surrogates to be active participants in identification, to express concerns about safety and potential errors, and to ask questions about the correctness of their care.
  • If your facility utilizes automated systems for patient identification systems (e.g., electronic order entry, bar coding, radiofrequency identification, biometrics) to decrease the potential for identification errors, know how to incorporate them into the patient identification process.


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