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Adding patient photos to records could reduce medical mistakes

Most hospitals and clinics these days rely on electronic records and patient charts. Unfortunately, since one screen of data looks much like another, sometimes medical personnel mistakenly add information to the wrong patient's records. The consequences could be harmful or even deadly if the error results in the administration of the wrong medication or procedure to a patient.

Hospitals and doctors concerned about reducing such data entry errors, and the resulting mistakes that could amount to medical malpractice, are increasingly trying the simple measure of adding patient photos to electronic charts.

In one instance, a hospital had its electronic system reprogrammed so that when a doctor uses it to order medication, a test or a procedure for a patient, a screen pops up requiring them to confirm their instructions. This screen displays the patient's digital photo along with other pertinent data in hopes of cutting down on the number of mistakes.

A previous study of errors at the hospital revealed that misplacing orders for medication or procedures into the wrong patient's electronic chart was the second most prevalent reason that patients erroneously received another patient's treatments. By adding patient pictures to the electronic charts, the hospital was able to reduce the number of such mistakes from 12 one year to a mere three the next year. In all three of the instances in which a mistake still occurred, the patient had no photo in their records.

In other cases, even when one hospital staff member made a mistake entering data in a patient's electronic chart, the presence of a photo has helped improve the odds that another hospital staff member will catch the error in time to prevent the wrong medication or treatment from being given.

As much as we would all like to believe that our doctors are providing the most personal treatment possible, the staff members at clinics and hospitals are just as human as their patients, and mistakes are inevitable when dealing with records, whether they're on paper or in a computer. The addition of photographs to records seems to be effective in minimizing these errors and, in turn, the possibility of a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Can patient photos help cut medical errors?" Amy Norton, June 4, 2012

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