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Using patient photos to prevent medical malpractice

In past blog posts, we have discussed the patient safety improvements that can come from using electronic health records and moving away from medical errors caused by paper charts and illegible handwriting. A study published recently shows that using pictures in those electronic records can also help decrease medical errors.

The study looked at a process created by Children's Hospital in Colorado. At that hospital, the computer system links photographs of every child to their medical records. When a doctor would like to order treatment or a medical test, the photo will appear on the order verification screen. The number of misplaced orders has decreased dramatically at that hospital - from 12 incidents in 2010 to three in 2011. And, according to the hospital, those three cases involved records without photos attached.

Photos would not only decrease the number of misplaced orders but could also improve patient safety by:

  • Ensuring that the right patient receives the right medication
  • Preventing wrong-patient surgery and other invasive and noninvasive medical procedures
  • Verifying that the record in the system is attributed to the right patient

While some patients may not want their pictures taken, the benefits clearly outweigh any potential drawbacks.

Of course, errors will still occur since medical professionals are human and cannot always rely on electronic data to do their jobs. However, the more that can be done to reduce medical malpractice and prevent unnecessary injuries, the better. We can only hope that hospitals around the country will see this data and recognize that preventing even just one form of medical error (misplaced orders) is a step forward.

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

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