Posted By Monique Dever On February 9, 2015

How can EHR photo IDs help local health departments uniquely identify patients?

How can EHR photos help local health departments uniquely identify patients?

Many public health departments have unique patient populations, which can increase difficulties in properly identifying their patients. In an ever changing world, local health departments are seeing patients from different parts of the world including Latin America, Burma, and Cambodia etc. Spellings can be confusing. To complicate patient check-in process, some patients use first name and last names interchangeably. This is causing duplicate records and making it difficult to get a complete and accurate view of a patient. But ensuring that correct records are pulled for each patient is critical in providing accurate care. With Electronic Health Records (EHRs), this should be easy, but EHRs themselves are still new to many public health professionals and not all EHRs are equal.


According to the Safety Assurance Factors for EHR Resilience (SAFER) guides published by the Office of the National Coordinator Health Information Technology (ONC HIT), it is recommended to include a patient photo for more reliable and accurate patient identification. These photos, uploaded into the EHR’s patient record can eliminate mistakes of pulling incorrect charts.


While the addition of a photo in the patient’s health record has proven effective in reducing errors, adding the procedure to the check-in process is not always easy to adopt depending on which EHR system you’re using. If your EHR does not accommodate uploading patient photos, you may want to consider a new system.


If your EHR does have a photo ID field, adding the photo should be as easy as “say cheese.” Today, most computers are already equipped with built-in cameras, but any camera which connects to the computer will work, such as smart phones, other portable digital cameras, or computer mounted versions. Additionally, most people are familiar with taking pictures which reduces the training and implementation process. Cameras at check-in can capture a current photo of each patient which can then be uploaded directly into the EHR.


Having an EHR photo ID as part of the patient’s record is not only an excellent safeguard, it can also reduce the time it takes to pull up records and, therefore, the overall patient wait times. This can free up admissions staff to answer questions and focus on patient needs. However, make sure that the EHR you purchase, your staff will use.


As health professionals always say, you should expect the unexpected and take measures to prevent them. As with all safety concerns, public health department leaders should be engaged in assessing whether recommended practices, such as patient identification, affect their ability to deliver safe and quality care and take measures to incorporate those that help.

About Monique Dever

Monique integrates research and networking with her passion for health and well-being to provide important, up-to-date news, resources and current events to the public health communities. She is the Marketing Executive for Patagonia Health, an Electronic Health Records (EHR) software company focused on the public health sector.