Including a patient photograph on a verification screen in electronic health records (EHRs) could help prevent clinicians from placing incorrect orders, results of a recent study suggest.

In 2009, misplaced orders were the second most common reason that patients with an EHR received inappropriate care, Daniel Hyman, MD, chief quality officer at the Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora and colleagues reported online in Pediatrics. In total, misplaced orders made up 24% of all errors at the hospital.

In an effort to cut down on such errors, the hospital changed its computer system so that all orders for tests or treatments triggered an “order verification screen,” which included a photograph of the pediatric patient.

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The new system proved highly effective. From 2010 to 2011, the number of children who received care intended for another patient due to misplaced orders fell from 12 children to just three. In all three cases there was no photo in the child’s EHR. Furthermore, not a single instance of misplaced or mistaken orders occurred in EHRs that contained a patient’s photo.

Clinicians may have multiple records open onscreen at one time, the researchers explained, and may think they are writing in one patient’s chart when they are really entering an order into another. Study researchers used a digital camera to photograph hospital patients, and then added these  photos to patients’ EHRs. Other hospitals could easily do the same using inexpensive technology, the researchers noted.  

One problem that sometimes comes up with this strategy is that some parents don’t want their child’s picture incorporated in the EHR due to privacy issues. Making parents aware that the purpose of the photo is to ensure the children’s safety could be a potential solution to this barrier.

Hyman D et al. Pediatrics. 2012; doi: 10.1542/peds.2011-2984.