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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One thought on “Confidentiality: Assessing Patient Information by Using DOB (date of birth)

  1. This is all absolutely true. I HATE asking a pt for his/her address at the front desk when they come to collect their script, yet this is what we are required to do. As I have been there a while I recognise a lot of our collectors and do not need to ask.

    I collected my own meds from a chemist a while back. And the girl swung out from behind the screen calling out, “Mrs James? 34 Pond Street?” I said, rather seethingly, “Yes! And now everyone here in the shop knows exactly who I am and where I live!!”

    I know the odds are slight, but we sometimes have all sorts waiting in the queue at the surgery where I work. Suppose I have just made young Miss Gorgeous Blond admit that she lives at 12 Lost Lane? And a psychopath waiting to book in for his blood test decides to call on her after dark?

    And it is amazing how common it is for names to be misspelled by our local hospital! As you demonstrate, there can be so many variations on commonly used names for a start.

    Thank you once again for a great blog!

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