patients pictures in their charts helps reduce medical errors

Some hospitals in Pittsburgh have started using electronic hospital charts. Electronic charts can help ensure prescriptions are legible and understood by everyone who needs to administer them. Electronic systems also have checks in place that prompt doctors to verify that they’re entering the correct information in the right charts.

Even so, there is little evidence that proves using electronic medical charts reduces the number of medical errors. In 2009, a study revealed that orders put in the wrong patient’s chart were the second most common reason that patients received tests or treatment intended for someone else. This may be because it is possible for doctors to have several charts showing on the screen at one time, so it is easy for a doctor to get confused about which chart he or she is putting information in.

In other words, while electronic charts may have been presented as a way of limiting error, the fact is that they have not. Also, hospitals are not implementing electronic charts to improve the quality of care patients receive. They are doing it because there are billions of dollars in government incentives available.

Implementing electronic charts is clearly not enough to limit risk of medical error; however, one hospital changed its computer system to require an “order verification screen.” The verification screen includes a photo of the patient, and the new check has helped reduce the number of medical errors significantly.

In 2010, the hospital had 12 incidents in which a patient received care that was intended for another patient because the order had been entered into the wrong electronic chart. The next year — after the hospital put patient pictures in their electronic charts — there were only three errors. Moreover, in each of those mistakes, there was no photo of the patient in his or her electronic chart.

Although the numbers may not seem large — 12 errors at one hospital — those errors add up. There are thousands of hospitals across the country, and each error puts a vulnerable patient in harm’s way. When the solution could be as simple as putting a patient’s photo in his or her chart, it’s absurd that more hospitals haven’t adopted the practice.

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

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