Using Patient Pictures in EHRs Can Help Reduce Errors

Electronic health records systems have helped some provider organizations reduce medical errors. But as physicians increasingly use the technology to review dozens of charts each day, there’s still a risk that they could put an order in the wrong electronic chart.

One hospital, however, has found that including a photo of the patient in their EHR can reduce that risk.

According to a study published in Pediatrics, Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora reported that these types of order errors represented 25% of the incidents of care being provided to the wrong patients at their facility. So in 2009, the hospital added an order verification screen that included a photo of the patient to its EHR, according to a story published by Reuters. Clinicians used a digital camera to take a picture of the patient upon admission then uploaded it to their corresponding electronic health record.

During the next 15 months, no patient whose picture was included in this verification screen had received unintended care because of an erroneous order in their chart. Further, the hospital in 2011 reported 10 “near-misses,” where a staff member caught an erroneous order, and in only one of those cases a child’s picture was included in the electronic record.

“The technology needed is relatively inexpensive,” Daniel Hyman, the hospital’s chief quality officer, told Reuters. “I do think it’s the photos that made the difference.”

While it may seem relatively easy for hospitals to begin using patient photos in their EHR systems, Children’s Hospital Colorado has had some parents who didn’t want their child’s picture taken for the application, citing privacy concerns, according to the Reuters story.

“They should know that we’re doing it for their (children’s) safety,” Hyman said. “Patient identification errors are a significant risk. And I think healthcare consumers should be aware of that.”