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Medical errors reduced by electronic charts with patient photos

There are many ways to prevent medical errors. Now a new study shows that putting pictures into electronic hospital charts could reduce the risk of patient misidentification. With hospitals admitting and discharging hundreds of patients daily, keeping track of medical conditions, treatments, tests, and other necessary procedures can be complicated. Any confusion can result in errors and medical malpractice.

Policymakers are encouraging hospitals and doctors in New York and nationwide to make use of technological advancements and information management systems. Advocates of electronic record keeping believe that replacing old fashioned paper records with electronic ones can improve the quality of care while reducing the potential for serious medical errors and mistakes.

Despite risk reduction, electronic records do not eliminate the possibility of human error. In some cases, patients have received the wrong test or treatment because a doctor mistakenly placed an order on the wrong electronic chart. Hospitals have been experimenting with various solutions to remedy this problem.

One hospital adjusted a computer system so that each order for a procedure or treatment triggered a verification screen which included a picture of a patient. Matching the patient with a corresponding identification photo significantly reduced the number of treatment errors from 12 to 3 in one year. In the cases of error, it was because there was no photo in the record.

Improper treatment is a leading cause of serious injury in medical malpractice cases. Failing to provide the correct treatment or administering the wrong treatment can result in serious injuries, including fatalities. Doctors and other experts seeking to reduce medical risk hope that change in systems can reduce the potential for error. Hospitals throughout the nation have been encouraged to add photos to records and prevent medical mistakes.

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