Keeping photos in medical records could reduce patient mix-ups

An Illinois surgeon could perform an operation without any errors, a pediatrician could prescribe the correct dose of a medication for a child, and a doctor could accurately diagnose an illness after properly assessing a patient’s symptoms, but all of these incidents could still jeopardize patient safety and lead to medical malpractice.

Doctors in Chicago and throughout the entire U.S. might think that they are providing quality care every day to every patient, but they might not always realize that they could be providing care to thewrong patient. Giving the wrong patient a medication and performing surgery on a patient who does not need the operation could result in catastrophic injuries.

But could patient mix-ups easily be prevented by putting photos of patients in their medical records for doctors and other medical professionals to see? According to a new study, doctors are less likely to treat the wrong patient when they are first required to look at a photo of the patient.

According to researchers, electronic charts and files for patients are meant to help eliminate medical errors, but it can’t eliminate all errors. One common mistake doctors can make is placing the right information for a patient in the wrong patient’s chart. However, if doctors are required to check photos of patients in electronic charts before completing notes or orders, doctors can easily identify whether or not information is going into the correct electronic charts.

The study was conducted at a hospital in Colorado in 2009. The hospital wanted to find ways to improve patient safety and determined that one way to eliminate errors was to tackle the problem of patient mix-ups. The hospital began taking photos of patients who were children and adding those photos to the patients’ electronic records. Then, when doctors added notes, orders or other information in the records, a verification screen would show up with the patient’s photo so that the doctor could verify that the information was being added to the correct chart.

Within a year of implementing the new system at the hospital, patient mix-ups had dropped from 12 incidents to only three incidents per year.

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

Medical Error


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