Here’s Why Waiting Too Long To Name Your Baby Could Increase The Risk Of Medical Mistakes

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baby-namesIt is very tough to name a baby. Frankly, I think naming a human being is way too much responsibility for the average person, and all babies should just be named by an official government computer somewhere. But until Skynet is done with beta-testing, we’re all going to have to continue to name our own infants. For those of us who tend to dither and be indecisive about major decisions like where to go to grad school and what to get on a pizza, naming a baby can take a long time, but new research indicates that taking too long to name one’s baby can increase the risk of hospital mistakes.

(Related: Naming A Human Being Is Too Much Responsibility)

Oops. Now I feel pretty guilty, because my infant went around with a wrist tag that said “Mädchen” the entire time she was in the hospital. (As cool as Twin Peaks‘ Mädchen Amick is, I did not name my daughter after her. I had my baby in Germany, and “Mädchen” just means “girl” in German.) I don’t think we settled on her name for several days, but NPR reports that kind of waiting increases the likelihood that someone at the hospital could make a mistake with the babies.

In a new article published in Pediatrics, researchers report that generic placeholder names like “Babygirl Licata” increases the likelihood that someone at the hospital will confuse one “Babygirl” with another one and might give one baby the wrong medical treatment. The problem is especially significant for babies in the NICU, because those babies are simultaneously much more fragile and much more likely to be given significant medical treatments than full-term babies.

Jason Adelman of Montefiore Health System in New York, one of the study authors, said they tested a new naming convention that gave unnamed babies specific names linked to their mothers’ names in an attempt to keep things straight, and it seems to have helped significantly. According to NPR:

Adelman and his colleagues came up with a new naming convention that incorporates the mom’s first name. Instead of Babygirl Hobson, my daughter would instead be tagged as Katherinesgirl Hobson. Twins would be called 1Katherinesgirl and 2Katherinesgirl, rather than the conventional BabygirlA and BabygirlB. (Another system using temporary names like CutiePie and BuggyBear was rejected, says Adelman.)

After the new naming system was put in place, researchers measured then number of near misses registered on the hospital computers. Computers log all “retract and reorder” events in which a hospital employee tells the computer to retract an order given for one patient and apply it to another patient, indicating that it was given to the wrong patient in the first place. After the new naming convention was put in place, researchers say the number of such events dropped by 36 percent compared with the year earlier.

A mixup or hospital error still seems unlikely, especially since the research did not look at how many actual errors occurred but how many times one was specifically avoided, but cutting down on the possibility of human error is as good a reason as any to pick a name faster. And honestly, waiting to see whether the baby looks like a Clementine or a Cordelia is probably useless anyway. I tried it myself, but it doesn’t help make the decision any easier because all newborns just look like they should be called Winston Churchill or Puffyface McAngryPants.

(Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)