A Picture is Worth a 1,000 Words

Author: Fred J. Hughes

A recent study published by the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that including a patient’s photo on an order verification screen within the Electronic Medical Record (EMR) can significantly reduce the number of orders entered into the wrong patient’s records.

The Children’s Hospital in Colorado conducted a hospital-wide quality improvement program to improve patient identification and verification practices.  In 2009, the placement of orders on the wrong patient’s chart was the second most common reason that care was provided to the wrong patient, and accounted for 24% of reported errors.  Due to these findings, the hospital upgraded their EMR systems to include a computerized order entry verification process which included a centrally placed photo of each patient.  In 2010, the number of errors was dramatically reduced (12 reported cases) and in 2011, only three cases were reported, all of which did not have a photo included in the EMR.

It goes without saying that reducing errors should lead to a reduction in medical-legal actions.  Given the mandate that the health care industry must begin to utilize electronic medical records, all health care facilities are going to face a variety of challenges in implementing and operating such a system.  One major challenge involves treatment errors related to medication orders being placed in the wrong patient’s record and then being carried out for the incorrect patient.  The Children’s Hospital Colorado study shows us that the simple use of a photograph within the record can reduce those errors, improve patient safety, and support better patient outcomes.  This will in turn improve the facility’s community relations and help to avoid the costs, both physical and economic, associated with litigation.  This picture just may be worth much more than 1,000 words.


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