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New X-ray method could reduce risk of identification errors

An Emory University School of Medicine assistant professor estimates that a wrong-patient error occurs in around one of every 10,000 radiological examinations. These errors could put Boston patients at risk of serious health problems and doctors at risk of medical malpractice lawsuits by resulting in misdiagnosis or a missed diagnosis of cancer. A new study produced for the American Roentgen Ray Society annual meeting has investigated a solution that could greatly reduce the number of errors.

Instead of using a folder of X-rays identified only by patient paperwork, files would contain a photo of the patient for quicker recognition. Two experiments carried out in the study confirmed that this practice significantly reduces errors. Ten radiologists were first selected to receive 20 images with and without identifying photos. Each set of X-rays included deliberately mismatched images and data. Errors were only spotted 13 percent of the time without photos compared to 64 percent of the time with attached photos.

A problem was quickly noticed in the study design, however. Some of the radiologists had ignored the patient photos altogether. After being told to use them, the radiologists detected mismatch errors 94 percent of the time.

Errors in patient identification may cause a failure to diagnose cancer or other misdiagnosis that further results in the spread of disease, delayed treatment and an otherwise worsened condition. For patients, these errors have a number of consequences, including increased medical bills, pain and suffering, or even death. The victims of identification errors may be entitled to receive compensation from a negligent physician or other health provider. A medical malpractice attorney may be able to help pursue civil claims in these cases.

Source: U.S. News, "Adding Patient Photos to X-Rays May Cut Identification Errors," April 15, 2013

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