Patient Photos in Electronic Records Can Help Prevent Medical Errors

The way one electronic medical record looks so much alike another can be downright dangerous to patients. When a doctor or nurse has more than one patient record up on a computer screen, tests or treatments meant for one patient can get put on another’s.

Medical malpractice like this kills or injures many New Yorkers every year. There has to be a better way of keeping good records and delivering the right care. This is especially true for children, who are less able to speak up and challenge medical professionals when the wrong care is delivered.

A recent research study suggests that there is indeed a better way to deliver the right care to children without going back to paper charts. The study found that inserting a verification screen that includes a picture of the patient can help reduce errors that result from giving a child patient treatment meant for someone else.

The research involved pediatric care and was done at Children’s Hospital in Aurora, Colorado.

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In 2010, there were 12 incidents at this hospital where a child received care meant for another patient. In 2011, by inserting patient photos into the electronic records, that number was cut to three. Tellingly, in all three of those cases in 2011, the medical record did not contain the child’s photo.

“I do think it’s the photos that made the difference,” said Dr. Daniel Hyman, who oversaw the research study.

So far, there is not a lot of data available on how frequently doctors put the wrong orders for treatment in the electronic record. The Colorado study suggests, however, that adding digital photos is not burdensome and can be an important safeguard against mistakes.

Source: “Can patient photos help cut medical costs?” Reuters Health / Chicago Tribune, Amy Norton, 6-4-12

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