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Patient Picture Verification Proven to Reduce Medical Errors

Increasingly, hospitals and medical facilities are moving away from paper files to electronic medical records to promote accuracy and efficiency. Some say this has helped to reduce medical errors. Others, however, say there's room for improvement when it comes to the logistics of electronic recordkeeping.

One Colorado hospital is already taking steps in this direction; it recently implemented a minor change that it says has made drastic differences. It is now including patients' pictures in all electronic medical records.

In 2009, Colorado Children's Hospital discovered that many medical errors occurred because procedures or tests were being conducted on the wrong patients.

According to Dr. Daniel Hyman, lead researcher of the study and chief quality officer at the Colorado Children's Hospital, physicians had more than one patient record open in a computer screen and were most likely putting in the wrong order for the wrong patient. "You can think you're in one person's chart, but really be in someone else's," he said.

The hospital decided to reprogram its computer systems to mitigate these occurrences. Now, whenever any hospital employee attempts to order a procedure or test for a patient, an "order verification screen" appears and displays a picture of the patient in question.

This small change has proven to be extremely beneficial. In 2011, the hospital's error rate plummeted by 75 percent. In 2011, the Colorado Children's Hospital reported that only three episodes occurred where treatment was ordered for the wrong person. In 2010, prior to the picture protocol, it reported 12 incidents.

Although this may seem like a small number, it would add up quickly if expanded to every hospital across the country.

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

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