A 50-year-old man from Birmingham, England, was understandably surprised last month upon receiving a letter from Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital informing him that he was pregnant with twins. The letter asked Hilton Plettell to come in for an ultrasound and explained that he could expect the two bundles of joy in about seven months. Plettel only visited the hospital once –15 years ago for a kidney-stones operation. His wife was quick to point out that the babies are not hers.
While Plettel’s story may be worth a laugh, it’s really not that surprising at all, according to Andy Hayler, president and CEO of The Information Difference Ltd., a London-based consulting firm that focuses on master data management and data quality issues. Hayler, whose wife is a doctor, said that similar information management problems occur regularly in hospitals.
“Patient data is kept in lots of different places,” he said. “So, there is an excellent chance that someone is going to pick something off the wrong database or address a letter to the wrong person.”
There is software available that can help organizations avoid sending letters to the wrong people and other information management errors, but it’s important to know that oftentimes technology alone will not solve the problem, added Tony Fisher, president and CEO of DataFlux Corp., a Cary, N.C.-based data management systems provider.
“It’s not a technology issue at this point for something like the ‘pregnant’ male patient,” Fisher said. “It’s far more to do with internal data processes, the ability to recognize data as critical, and to apply the appropriate data governance.”