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Preventing Medical Errors by Improving Patient File Access

Connecticut parents expect top-notch medical care for their children. In many Connecticut hospitals, the Patient Bill of Rights assures that families will receive the right information and explanations about children's medical treatments. However, the Patient Bill of Rights does not explicitly guarantee that children's treatment orders will be accurate.

In fact, a recent study suggests that tens of thousands of medical errors occur every year in hospitals all across the country when orders are electronically entered into patient records.

Treatment Errors

The study conducted at Colorado Children's Hospital found that misplaced electronic orders were the second most frequent cause of misplaced treatment-patients receiving care not intended for them.

While electronic recordkeeping has been widely adopted to promote accuracy in patient records, it is not free of human error. Personnel entering orders via computer can make a mistake by simply having the wrong patient record open when they make the entry.

In 2010 in the Colorado hospital, 12 children received treatment that had been ordered for someone else, and 33 near-misses occurred when staff members caught the error before the treatment was actually administered.

A Simple, Effective Solution: A Photo

Concerned about these errors, Colorado Children's reprogrammed its computerized records system so that every time someone tries to enter an order for treatment or a testing procedure, the system responds by displaying a verification screen that includes a photograph of the patient.

The initiative seems to be working. In 2011, the error rate had dropped by 75 percent; only three children received the wrong treatment (The records for these three children did not contain a photograph of the child). Near-misses dropped by over two-thirds, to only 10. Only one of the files for the near-misses contained the child's photograph.

Luckily, adding photos to medical records is simple and cost effective. Patients' digital pictures can be taken when they are admitted.

Parent's Help

Connecticut parents can help head off medical errors by asking doctors about their children's treatment plan. It is essential that parents be fully informed of their child's treatment plan. If staff try to administer treatment that is not in the plan, parents can then ask them to double-check with the doctor to be sure there is no error in the orders.