Patient Pictures May Prevent Some Medical Mistakes, Researchers Say
Attaching pictures to patients’ electronic medical records could significantly reduce the number of medical mistakes that occur throughout the United States, preventing nurses from giving patients the wrong drugs and surgeons from operating on the wrong patients, according to the findings of a recent study.
Researchers from Children’s Hospital in Colorado found that the simple act of placing a picture of the patient on the electronic version of their medical chart helped prevent mistakes, because health care workers could easily verify that the person they were treating was the same individual described in the chart.
The investigators said the tactic is an effective strategy for reducing patient harm. The findings were published on-line last week by the medical journal Pediatrics.
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According to the researchers, 24% of all reported medical errors occur because health care workers used incorrect patient’s chart. This leads to orders being placed for the wrong medications and in the most extreme cases, patients being operated on incorrectly. Those types of errors can be fatal and can also cost doctors and hospitals millions of dollars in medical malpractice lawsuits.
However, when researchers placed patients’ pictures on their medical charts, it allowed health care workers to match the face of the person they were about to treat to the face on the chart. They reported that after a 15 month period, no patient whose picture was on their chart received unintended care. The problem had been completely eliminated for the duration of the study.
Many medical experts have long hoped that the use of electronic or digital medial records would reduce medical mistakes and prescription errors, helping healthcare providers avoid preventable injuries and reduce their exposure to the risk of medical malpractice lawsuits.
Having the records available electronically could prevent misreading of hand-written data, flag potentially dangerous drug combinations and alert physicians and health care professionals to health conditions that might complicate other procedures.
However, some studies have shown that many of the expected benefits are not materializing as rapidly as expected, if at all.
In February 2011, a report by researchers from Johns Hopkins published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found no consistent link between the use of electronic records and the quality of care. The only category that showed marked improvement from electronic medical record use was diet counseling in high-risk adults.
A different study, published in late December 2010 in the American Journal of Managed Care, did find overall improvements in serious medical care when hospitals used electronic health records, but found a decrease in quality when the electronic record-keeping systems were new.
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