What's in a Name? Provider Perception of Injured John Doe Patients

Christopher F. Janowak*, Suresh K. Agarwal, Ben L. Zarzaur

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: We previously demonstrated that unidentified aliased patients, John Doe's (DOEs), are one of the highest risk and most medically fragile populations of injured patients. Aliasing can result in misplaced information and confusion that must be overcome by health care professionals. DOE alias use is institutionally dependent and not uniform, which may lead to significant variation in perception of confusion and error. We sought to determine if health care practitioners experience confusion that may result in compromised care when caring for injured DOE patients. Methods: After obtaining institutional review board approval, we surveyed critical care nurses, nurse practitioners, resident physicians, and surgeons who care for DOE patients at two academic level I trauma centers with separate DOE alias practices. Surveys asked whether caring for DOE patients created possible or actual confusion and possible or actual patient care errors. In one institution (Selective DOE), only unidentified patients were given an alias that was reconciled when information became available. At the other institution (All DOE), all trauma patients were admitted with an alias that was reconciled within 24 h. Respondents were invited to complete an anonymous questionnaire regarding the care for DOE patients. Results were analyzed with Wilcoxon rank-sum tests, and significance was assessed at a level of 0.05. Results: Of 176 total respondents, 120 (68.2%) reported from Selective DOE and 56 (31.8%) from All DOE. Overall 53.1% reported that DOE use can cause serious confusion. Specifically, 31.3% reported experiencing actual confusion, although only 4% reported actual errors. Nurses had significantly higher perceived risk of confusion in the system of All DOE versus Selective DOE assignment (17.9% versus 4.2%, P < 0.01). Resident physicians reported significantly more frequent actual mistakes within the All DOE versus Selective DOE (24.1% versus 6.6%, P < 0.01), despite finding no significant difference in resident perception of confusion (21.4% versus 12.5%, respectively, P = 0.18). Conclusions: Our study sheds light on clinical consequences of EMR use and aliases for end users. We show that nurses perceive that there are greater potential complications associated with DOE aliases use, and this varies depending on the system used for managing unidentified patients. Minimizing DOE alias use may help to minimize provider confusion, risk for error, and patient safety.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)218-223
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Surgical Research
StatePublished - Jun 2019


  • Alias
  • Confusion
  • Electronic medical record
  • Error
  • Health information systems
  • John Doe
  • Trauma
  • Unidentified


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