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Why not having a name at birth can be dangerous in a hospital

Babies who are twins, triplets and quadruplets sometimes have to spend time in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) because they are underweight or have other health issues. If they're born prematurely, their parents may not have chosen names for them yet. In some religions, such as Judaism, parents don't announce a child's name for a specific period after they're born.

A study conducted at six NICUs in New York, however, indicated that infants who are part of multiple births are more likely to receive medication, treatment or tests intended for another baby -- specifically, one of their siblings. The more siblings there were, the more likely they are to be the victim of what's known as a patient order error.

One issue, researchers believe, is the fact that often these babies don't have names yet. According to one doctor, who's a chief patient safety officer, if a baby doesn't have a name, hospitals will typically assign a generic first name like "Babygirl." When there are siblings, they'll just add a numeral after each one to differentiate them. However, that can too easily lead to mistakes.

The doctor says, "In our previous research, we found that a more distinct naming convention incorporating the mother's first name, e.g.,"Wendysboy," reduced the risk for order errors overall by 36%. He added that "alternative strategies are needed to protect multiple-birth infants from wrong-patient errors."

He says that it's best when parents have names already chosen for their babies, particularly if it's going to be a multiple birth. If their religion or culture prohibits them from choosing or sharing names just after a child is born, they can select a nickname for each baby that medical personnel can use to easily distinguish between them in electronic records and when dispensing medication or when a baby requires a procedure or test.

Certainly, parents should do everything they can to make it easier for medical personnel to distinguish each of their infants from one another and from other babies. However, it's ultimately the responsibility of the health care providers to ensure that they know which patient -- no matter how tiny -- they're dealing with. If they make a patient order error that causes harm, they may be held liable.

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