ARRS: Facial photos curb wrong patient errors

Including a photograph of a patient’s face to x-ray images yielded a five-fold drop in wrong-patient errors, according to research presented April 15 at the annual meeting of the American Roentgen Ray Society in Washington, D.C.

"X-rays can look alike, and if one patient's images are confused with another before the radiologist sees them, it can be difficult for the radiologist to determine there is a mismatch," said Srini Tridandapani, MD, of Emory University in Atlanta, in a press release.

Tridandapani and colleagues sought to evaluate whether facial photographs obtained with x-ray exams could increase radiologists’ detection of mislabeled exams.

The researchers obtained simultaneous portable x-rays and photos from 34 patients and generated 88 pairs of chest images (one current and one prior). They created lists of 20 pairs for review, forming mirrored lists, with the second list incorporating two to four mismatched photos and x-rays.

Ten radiologists interpreted each pair of images and then reviewed the second list with the mismatched pairs.

The mismatch error detection rate was 12.5 percent without photos and 64 percent with photos. In the initial study, radiologists were not instructed about how to use the photos and some ignored them. In a second study of five radiologists who were instructed to use the photos, the error detection rate swelled to 94 percent.

Tridandapani and colleagues also noted the interpretation time decreased from 33.9 minutes without photos to 26.5 minutes with the addition of the photographs.

"We're not sure why this happened, but it could be because the photograph provided clinical clues that assisted the radiologist in making the diagnosis,” said Tridandapani.

The researchers have developed a prototype system where the camera can be attached to a portable x-ray system, thus pictures can be taken without additional personnel.