Mistaken Identity

Have you ever been mistaken for someone else?


Maybe you have a twin and people assume you are your sibling? Or you’re lucky enough to be the doppelgänger of a celebrity and find yourself being asked for selfies?


We all have two things that are most commonly used to identify us: Our appearance and our name. And one or the other isn’t always enough for people to be able to correctly recognise us.


A Very Patient Twitter User

Someone who knows that only too well is a teacher from the US state of Virginia.


In 2007, he was an early adopter of a new social media website called Twitter. He did the simple thing and used his real name as his Twitter handle - @johnlewis.


Little did he know that he shared a name with the popular UK high street store, and as Twitter use grew and companies began using it to communicate with customers, the inevitable started happening. A lot.


Since then, John has received up to 50,000 tweets every year from expectant customers asking questions or making complaints.


He’s become a bit of a celebrity in his own right with his sometimes witty and always patient response, often suffixed with #NotARetailStore. He’s even starred in his own version of John Lewis’s (the shop, that is) famous Christmas advert.


Right time, Right Place, Wrong Person

I’m sure we all have experienced similar, if not quite as well publicised, cases of mistaken identity.


When I was about 15, I remember visiting a high street shop (not John Lewis!) to get my first suit before I embarked on a work experience placement.

I came out of the fitting room to see what my Mum thought. She was across the shop with one of my brothers, so I walked over.


On the way, a man approached me, with various garments on hangers in his hand. I was tall for my age, so when he saw a young man of 6 foot in a sharp suit, he assumed I worked there and asked if he could try on some clothes.


Slightly taken aback, I said it was fine with me but he’d probably be best to check with one of the members of staff first. There was a brief awkward silence, during which I’m pretty sure he spotted I was wearing bright purple socks and no shoes, and it dawned on him.


No harm was done, just an amusing story to recount years later. We all went on with our day and that was that.


Pass the Scalpel?

I remembered this some 15 years later when I perched, clad in ill-fitting scrubs, next to my wife in the delivery suite as our first son was about to be born.


As I sat there nervously waiting to become a new dad, I wondered what the equivalent of “Can I try this on?” would be?


Pass the scalpel? More local anaesthetic? Catch!?


Thankfully, nothing came to pass and we were soon proud parents of a healthy baby boy.


I had a good experience – greatly helped by a wife who is a doctor and knowing one of the nurses in the room.


It’s not the same for everyone though, and believe it or not, there are reports of birthing partners being mistaken for anaesthetists and asked to administer drugs.


It might be the polar opposite of my experience, but it can and does happen.


At best it’s a light-hearted story, but this type of confusion can cause patient anxiety and delays which, in times of emergency, could be catastrophic.


Experience and Identification


A 2009 study of nearly 3,000 inpatients found that 75% of them could not name a single Doctor, Nurse or other member of staff involved in their care.


Of those who said they could remember a name, only 40% of them got it right.


That amounts to fewer than 1 in 10 patients knowing the name of someone looking after them.


But why does that matter?


Because not knowing who is around us inhibits our ability to communicate effectively.


With extra PPE further masking people’s appearance and ID badges not allowed in theatres due to infection control, patients face the prospect of being surround by nameless, faceless strangers, as bystanders in their own care.


Here are some more numbers.


As part of the 2018 #MyNameIs campaign, a study found that only 79% of patients said their clinician introduced themselves.


To compound that, only 30% of us tend to remember people’s names after we first meet them, and that’s at times when we are calm and not stressed.


Colleague to Colleague

Lack of easy identification isn’t just a problem for patients – it causes real problems in communication between staff members in the course of their duties too.


Back in 2004, communication in operating rooms was the subject of an observational study.


The results were stark. 30% of all exchanges between clinical staff displayed errors in communication.


This mostly centred on lack of clear roles and responsibility, put down to a lack of standardisation and team integration.


Of those problematic exchanges, 1 in 3 directly lead to outcomes that put the patient’s safety in jeopardy.


A consultant paediatric surgeon believing his assistant to be a surgical fellow asked a leading question – ‘You’re okay to finish this operation aren’t you’. Perhaps assuming that he was supposed to the medical student completed the case. The medical student was later reprimanded for not speaking up.

A gynaecologist made a hole in the patient's bowel so the colorectal surgeon was called. On arrival they were asked to scrub in. After spending 15 minutes trying to find the hole the gynaecologist asked his colleague what they should do to which his colleague replied ‘I’m not sure – you do realise I’m a medical student’.


When exchanges, questions or requests are directed at people by name, the results are greatly improved, and the chance of misunderstanding and error are greatly reduced.


A team of researchers working in Portsmouth, UK, and Sydney, Australia said in 2018:

“The use of people’s names leads to better exchange of information which results in more effective teams and improved patient safety. Team communication is a central component of managing and averting errors. Crucially, omissions, misinterpretations, and conflict arising from poor communication can result in adverse patient outcomes. Knowing and recognising team members by name has been quantitatively and qualitatively associated with increased trust, work engagement, and clinical outcomes”

Yet the same research found that name recall amongst colleagues in operating theatres averaged 71% (topping out at 77%, with people recognising just 1 in 2 colleagues at the lower end).


Recall was also proved to be worse in emergencies, where confusion, delays and mistakes are likely to be even more costly.


Why is it difficult?


Yes, people will always forget names sometimes or mistake people, however, the chances of this happening must be as close to zero as possible.


Most staff will normally wear name badges as a form of ID, but this isn’t always the case. They can be difficult to read quickly or from a distance, or worn in inconsistent places so they are not immediately obvious.


COVID-19, as well as adding PPE to cover people’s faces even more, has meant stricter infection control guidelines and loose name badges on lanyards aren’t allowed in theatre settings.


So, what is the solution?


A simple and easy solution is this: a named theatre cap.


A re-usable, personalised hat that has your name and role boldly displayed across the front.


Wearers are instantly recognisable as a staff member, their role is clear and defined, with a first name to be addressed by.


There’s real power in using first names – hearing our name is proven to activate patterns in the brain which make us more alert and responsive.


A vital communication aid, named theatre caps give patients comfort, and clinicians certainty. Both factors have a significant impact on the success of the procedure and the recovery of the patient.


They are greener and more cost-efficient for the NHS, too.


Our Mission

Warwick Med is committed to helping build a safer, greener NHS.


Driven by our Managing Director, Danielle, who combines business expertise with medical career focussed on patient safety, we’re leading the change from disposable theatre caps to custom, re-usable hats.


We are working with hospitals and trusts across the country and believe we can help save lives, save the NHS money and do our bit to save the planet too.


Explore our site and get in touch to find out how we can help you.

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