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New York patients may benefit from medical record photos

It's always a relief to hear that policymakers are looking for ways to improve patient care for New Yorkers and prevent medical errors. The current focus is to urge doctors and hospitals to adopt electronic patient records instead of using outdated paper records. Electronic records certainly cut down on many of the issues that arise with paper filing, but they still do not eliminate all doctor errors.

According to a quality-improvement program at a children's hospital in another state, misplaced orders were the second biggest reason for patients receiving the wrong care or treatment. Misplaced orders can still occur with e-records because doctors can confuse patient charts. As is the norm with computer usage, users can have more than one window open at a time and doctor's can confuse patients if they have more than one record open on the screen.

To combat this issue, the hospital installed an "order verification screen." The verification screen is displayed when someone orders a test or treatment and a picture of the patient appears. This new method seems to be working.

In just one year, the hospital managed to decrease the number of patients mistakenly treated because of a misplaced order from 12 cases to three cases. Moreover, in these three cases of unintended treatment, the patient's record did not contain photo identification.

Instances of "near-miss" cases, where a staff member recognized a misplaced order, dropped from 33 down to 10 cases in 2011. In the near-misses that still occurred, only one included a patient photo in the record.

The decreases may not seem significant, but it should be remembered that the numbers only come from one hospital. Implementing the system nationwide could greatly benefit patients in New York and elsewhere and help decrease misplaced orders and doctor errors.

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

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