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Photos May Prevent Wrong-Patient Order Errors

Something to consider when facemasks aren’t a thing: Including pictures with electronic health records (EHR) could decrease the rate of wrong-patient order errors.

Each year, Brigham and Women’s Hospital healthcare providers place over a million orders through their EHR system. Most of them happen without incidence: 99.9% of these orders are for the correct patient. It was that 0.1% of errors that researchers decided to focus on to determine and address their causes.

To do so, the hospital encouraged patients entering the emergency department between July 2017 and June 2019 to have their picture taken, explaining to them that the photos would be included as part of their electronic health record as a patient safety measure. 

Researchers analyzed these records for error. Of 2.5 million total orders placed for 71,851 unique patients, there was a decrease in errors of 35%. This amounts to an estimated two in every 1,000 orders being incorrect if photo implementation didn’t occur. This improvement in error was slightly more detectable in white patients, a finding that illuminates implicit bias, treatment inequities, and the impact of having a predominantly white patient population. The study is published at JAMA Network Open.

Previous research on other electronic patient verification techniques, such as forms, alerts, and pop-ups, have also proven to reduce electronic health record patient order errors but these methods have been found to be time-consuming and cause alert fatigue. Unlike these methods, including patient photos in EHRs enables uninterrupted navigation and utilizes the natural affinity humans have for facial recognition.

The Brigham and Mass General Hospitals plans to include photos of all patients in their electronic health records as soon as they are able considering that face masks are require of all patients during the Covid-19 pandemic.

READ NEXT: 3 Most Common Medical Errors Related to EHRs—and 4 Ways to Prevent Them

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