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Patient photos and electronic records can prevent medical errors

A new study shows that putting photos in an electronic hospital chart could help reduce a major type of medical error. Hospitals can be very transient with a large volume of patients getting admitted and discharged every day. Not surprisingly, keeping track of patients as well as orders for procedures and treatments can be complicated.

With technological advances in information management, policymakers in New Haven, Connecticut and nationwide have been encouraging hospitals and doctors to replace old-fashioned paper records with electronic ones. Advocates of electronic record keeping believe that this will improve the quality of medical care while also preventing mistakes.

Unfortunately, electronic records have not eliminated human errors. There have even been reports of hospital patients getting the wrong test or treatment because a doctor mistakenly put an order in the wrong electronic chart. A recent quality-improvement program found that misplaced orders were the second-most common reason that patients received the wrong treatment or care.

To remedy this kind of error, the hospital adjusted the computer system so that each order triggered a verification screen which included a picture of the patient. According to a study which analyzed the system change, the number of treatment errors was reduced from 12 to 3 per year. In the three cases of error, it was because there was no photo in the record.

Performing the wrong treatment or failing to give treatment to the right patient can result in serious injury to patients. Doctors and other medical risk experts believe that the change in the system can make a significant difference in keeping records accurate and organized. Hospitals and tretament centers have been encouraged to add photos to electronic records to reduce the potential for medical error.

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

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