Comparing Healthcare IT Apples to Finance IT Oranges

When I first moved into healthcare from the world of magazines three or so years ago, many of the conversations/heated debates I overheard revolved around healthcare following in finance’s footsteps, especially with regard to IT. In its simplest form, the idea was “if they can do it, why can’t we?” The counter-argument from detractors being, of course, that healthcare is a completely different beast – personal health information is sacred, unlike bank statements and credit histories.

I haven’t heard this debate in quite some time, but was reminded of it when I came across the recent headline “Patient Photos in EHRs Help Reduce Medical Errors.” [Priya posted her take on Patient Photos in EHR recently as well.] The article relates that:

“In 2009, a quality-improvement program at Children’s Hospital Colorado found that orders placed in the wrong patient’s chart were the second most common reason that patients received treatments not intended for them. To reduce such errors, the hospital modified its EHR system to generate an order verification screen each time a test or treatment was ordered. The verification screen displayed a photo of the patient taken at the time the patient was admitted.

“The study found that the number of incidents in which a patient received care intended for another patient fell from 12 cases in 2010 to three cases after the hospital implemented the verification screens in 2011. In all three of those cases, a photo was not included in the patient’s EHR.”

The results of the study aren’t surprising to me. Seems like a simple enough solution, right? But upon further consideration, perhaps it’s not as simple as it seems, at least in terms of costs and logistics. The lead author of the study, Children’s Hospital Colorado Chief Quality Officer Daniel Hyman, made the point that hospitals could add photos to their EHR systems, and that the technology needed is relatively inexpensive.

I seem to remember the world of finance – or at least my local bank branch – implementing a similar photo-taking method 10 to 12 years ago. I opened up a new checking account, and got my picture taken at the same time for inclusion on my new, shiny debit card. I’ve had a few replacement cards since then, but none have had my photo included, and my bank has never asked me if I’d like to continue including the security feature on my card. Which makes me think, is it really as cost-effective an option as Hyman suggests?

Logistically, how easy is it to snap a picture of every admitted patient? What sort of equipment does this entail that is “relatively inexpensive?” Sure, you think a camera and a USB cord is all that might be needed, but if that were the case, why isn’t the banking world continuing this practice?

To make this truly successful in the world of healthcare, perhaps EHR vendors should offer this sort of technology as an add-on to their offerings.

I’d love to hear from those in the hospital world as to why or why not this might be a good idea, and why it hasn’t been tried before. I’d especially like to hear from anyone in admitting, especially with regard to how fun it would be to ask moms in labor for a quick glamour shot!