Confidentiality: Assessing Patient Information by Using DOB (date of birth)


In today’s society with confidentiality a wide and often difficult issue we often have to be seen to minimise the use of patient information. Simply by repeating a patients name or address often breaks confidentiality. Most of the time this will not cause a problem, but there are ALWAYS the exception.

Ways that confidentiality can be broken can include:

  • Asking a patient for their name or address at the reception desk and being overheard by a 3rd party.
  • Repeating a patients name or address over the telephone and being overheard by a 3rd party.
  • Writing patient information down where a 3rd party can read it.
  • Giving patient information to a 3rd party i.e. husband/wife/mother/father/son/daughter or other family members or friends of the patient without their consent. This also includes outside agencies.

By using the patients date of birth (DOB) you are not giving away any confidential information to anyone listening to your conversation. This can be a good way of dealing with such an issue at a busy reception desk.

By entering the DOB into the computer it will identify if this patient has already been registered. By entering a name onto the computer, which has another way of spelling the name to the one already registered will not identify that this patient is already registered.

When a patient is entered onto the system twice this creates a duplicate patient – and it means that one patient will have two set of “notes” on the computer system. This could lead to serious problems because if the patient is brought up on the system by their name and accordingly to which way the name is spelt important information could be stored on the “other duplicate” set of notes. This could be blood results, letters from the hospital etc.

Duplicate patients are often created when a patient is registered at the practice before then moved away and returned to the area and wanting to re register at the practice again. If DOB was entered it would straight away identify that the patient has already been a patient and their records can be “re-opened”. If the name is entered and their original name was entered by My John David Smith and when they came to re-register and they put My John Smith this may not identify that he had been registered in the past.
This would result in them being registered again thus creating a duplicate of notes.

Below are some examples of how ONE patient could be entered into the computer system in more than one way:

  1. Carol Ann Linch          DOB 29.5.86
  2. Carol Anne Linch        DOB 29.5.86
  3. Carole Ann Linch        DOB 29.5.86
  4. Carol Anne Linch        DOB 29.5.86
  5. Carol Ann Lynch         DOB 29.5.86
  6. Carol Anne Lynch       DOB 29.5.86
  7. Carol Ann Lynch         DOB 29.5.86
  8. Carol Anne Lynch       DOB 29.5.86
  9. Carol Lynch                  DOB 29.5.86
  10. Carole Lynch                DOB 29.5.86

And so on and on…………………………

10 Ways that a patients name could be entered – BUT ONLY ONE DATE OF BIRTH

Putting in the wrong spelling will create a problem, the computer will be unable to find the patient or worse still bring up the wrong patient. Think of a surgery they could have 10,000 patients or even a hospital with thousands on their computer system – just think how many might share the same name or have similar names – but how many would share the same DOB and the same name?

By asking the patient for their DOB you can bring the patients details up straight away. If by chance there is more than one patient with the same DOB – then ask the patient to confirm their address – by asking the patient especially over the telephone you are not divulging any information – it is a bit different if they are at the front desk – so remember if you are asking them to be discreet.

Often you will have a father and son or mother and daughter with the same first name as well as their surname, this in the past has caused the wrong information to be used – for example:

  • Mr John Smith    DOB      26.5.57    (father)
  • Mr John Smith    DOB      18.8.81    (son)

Simple spelt names like Smith can be spelt differently i.e. Smyth, Smith. Green, can also be spelt as Greene, and there are many other names that can sound the same but be spelt differently.

By entered the DOB you would have brought up the correct patient.

By entering DOB when scanning will also minimise errors, in the past patient information has been scanned into the wrong patients notes.

If you do enter information onto the computer ALWAY check you have the correct spelling – please do not assume you have it right. If in doubt always ask for the DOB.

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4 thoughts on “Confidentiality: Assessing Patient Information by Using DOB (date of birth)

  1. this is a brilliant post. As someone who works as an administrator in a GP Practice I know how frustrating it is to find duplicate patients on the system. and then try and create on complete record… dont think people fully appreciate the dangers of confidentiality – not only ID theft but allowing “busybodies” in the waiting room to hear all sorts of information about “mrs X” and her recent results/ appts/prescriptions. Hope you dont mind if borrow this for next staff meeting

  2. At my doctors surgery i am asked every time i make a routine appointment why do i want to be seen? i dont understand why i am not allowed any confidentiality and if i try an say its personal then i am made to wait 3 weeks before i can get an appointment, pen and paper is never offered and i am expected to tell them my date of birth address and phone number, everyone can hear as its an open plan waiting room, i understand the right to ask me why i want to be seen if a request for an emergency or on the day appointment but i have never needed one and i cant understand why the receptionist insists on knowing the reason why i need to see my doctor? i have tried to get them not to do this but they say we are only doing what the doctor has instructed us to do so i cant win but it really upsets me every time and its embarrassing and i feel that it wrong on routine appointments but sadly i cant do anything about it as i have tried.

    • Thank you for your comments, and I am so sorry that have this experience every time you want to make an appointment.I will say in their defence the Receptionists are often required by the Doctors to ask patients why they want to see the Doctor in order that they can direct patients to see the proper healthcare professional, i.e. Doctor, Nurse, etc. BUT is you say it is personal and you want to see a Doctor then you should be respected for that and should be given an appointment without any further question. As why they have to ask you for your date of birth, address and phone number is a puzzle as just by asking your date of birth should be sufficient and they should be able to get your records from this alone. If and only if there was another patient with the same date of birth as yourself might they then had the needs to ask a further question like your address or telephone number – but this should never be done within earshot of patients. You have every right not to answer the Receptionist if you don’t want to, many patients are only too happy to share why they need an appointment, but those like yourself that don’t want to disclose why you want an appointment should not be made to. Perhaps when you make another appointment before they ask you why you need to see the doctor and cause you further embarrassment you could get in there first by saying could I have an appointment to see the Doctor for a routine appointment, and I would rather not discuss what I want to see the Doctor for. If after this you get any more problems, feel embarrassed or put on the spot perhaps it is time that you phoned and spoke to the Practice Manager and shared your concerns with her. As a patient you have the right to confidentiality and as long as the Receptionist can identify who you are (by using Date of Birth) then that should be sufficient. I wish you well and hope that you can find a way around this to avoid any more embarrassment.

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