Tom, age 45, was in the hospital hooked up to an IV line. The fluid going into his vein contained antibiotics to treat an abdominal infection. It was his second day in the hospital and he was feeling much better. The extreme pain that he'd had in his belly was completely gone, but he knew that he had to keep getting the antibiotics for a while longer.

He looked up when an orderly entered the room pushing a wheelchair.

"Okay, buddy," the orderly said cheerfully, "In you go."

Tom was a little perplexed.

"Where are we going?"

"Down to X-ray. Way in the basement in the other building. I call it the dungeon sometimes, it's so gloomy-looking. They try to cheer it up by painting the walls bright colors, but it's still a dungeon to me."

"Okay, but why are we going there?"

"They want you to have a test."

"What kind of test?"

"Just says here to take you to X-ray. They know all about it. They'll take good care of you. You don't have to worry about a thing."

Reluctantly, Tom folded his newspaper and got into the wheelchair. The orderly greeted other employees enthusiastically as he navigated a series of long corridors and two different elevators.

Tom was getting more and more concerned as the journey continued. His doctor hadn't said anything about any more tests. And he was feeling much better. Why did he need another test?

Finally, they arrived and the orderly said, "Now, don't you worry. When they're finished, they'll call up and you'll get me or somebody else to come take you back to your room."

Tom wasn't worried about getting back to his room. He was worried about the test.

The X-ray technician started preparing to inject something into Tom's IV.

"Hold on there!" Tom said, alarmed. "What are you doing?"

"This is a contrast dye. It will help the doctor see what's going on in there."

"I don't want this. I don't know what this test is or what it is for. My doctor didn't say anything about getting another test. I think this is a mistake."

"Oh, they don't always tell you what they're doing. It's a standard test."

"Do not put that dye into my arm. Stop right there. I want to know what this test is called, what it is for and who authorized it. Don't come near me with that needle until you can tell me these things."

The X-ray tech sighed, put down the needle and went to make the call.

He came back a few minutes later and said, "Oops! This test isn't for you after all. You're not supposed to have this test. I'll call transport and have them come pick you up. You can wait right here until they come."

Tom's experience is not unusual. Tests and even treatments are sometimes given to the wrong patients in busy hospitals. How can you protect yourself?

  1. Ask your doctors to tell you the names of any new tests or treatments they order for you.
  2. Make sure you know what dates and times these are scheduled for.
  3. Ask the purpose of each test or treatment. It is reasonable for you to know what will be done to your body.
  4. When someone comes to take you for a test or to give you a treatment, ask them to show you the order that has your name on it. Read the order carefully. Sometimes hospital employees accidentally mix up patients with similar names. If the order is signed by a doctor you don't recognize, that's a red flag.
  5. If someone attempts to deliver a test or treatment you weren't expecting, it's reasonable to refuse to have it until you know that your doctor ordered it.