Say cheese: Patient photos being added to medical record

When a pediatric hospital in Colorado began adding photos of patients to its electronic medical records, patient identification errors dropped significantly. Stanford Hospital & Clinics hopes to achieve similar results for its patient photo project, which launched March 3 in the Emergency Department.

Registration personnel are now taking photos of every individual admitted to the ED. The photo is then uploaded to the patient's electronic medical record and visible to all practitioners at the hospital and clinics.

"Patient identification is a main cause of medical errors," said Ian Brown, MD, clinical assistant professor of emergency medicine and an attending physician in the ED. "Putting patient photos in the medical chart is one way to reduce this."

After the initial pilot phase in the ED, the patient photo project will be rolled out to the Cancer Center, and then subsequently throughout the hospital and clinics.

"The benefits of doing this are significant," said Monica Gupta, vice president of IT applications and business operations at the hospital, whose team is deploying this new capability. "It's really about driving the quality of patient care and the quality of patient interactions. This goes a long way in our ability to know who our patients are, and guide them through their interactions with Stanford."

When members of the Emergency Department debriefed after the Asiana plane crash at San Francisco International Airport last July, they saw a need for a better way to track patients during a disaster, Brown said. More than 50 patients were transported to Stanford from the Asiana incident, and all were assigned John Doe status. "It was difficult for our team to keep track of all the patients who came in during the disaster," he said. "Now we will be able to put a patient's actual picture in the chart, how they look at that moment, so every doctor and nurse will be able to know who they are and make sure they are identified before being treated."

There are secondary benefits to adding patient photos to the medical record, both Gupta and Brown said. It will help reduce insurance fraud due to identity theft and misrepresentation.

Patients will have the option to decline or defer having their photo taken, but will be encouraged to do so for their own protection.


Grace Hammerstrom is a freelance writer for Stanford Hospital & Clinics.


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