Color-coded wristbands in hospitals

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
October 6, 2008 3:11:24 PM PDT
More and more hospitals are relying on a tool that could help reduce medical mistakes. It's something patients wear everywhere they go.It's something more than just the plain white name band that patients wear around their wrists. These are new bands that are color-coded to make allergies and important patient information immediately visible to all hospital personnel. It can make for a safer hospital stay.

Forty-four-year-old James Bruce had back surgery recently and is rooming on the rehab floor. He is wearing wrist bands to make his stay a safer one.

"It lets the staff know that I'm at risk for falls and I have a shellfish allergy and whatnot," he said.

For decades, a patient's chart, now computerized, was the only place to find allergies, for example. But since March, Metropolitan Hospital Center has had this new method, which attaches directly to the patient. There are signs on the walls and brochures to educate patients.

"To have a visual identifier that can travel with the patient through every department in the hospital makes our jobs easier and safer for the patient," resident nurse Kate Fink said.

They are brightly colored to make them easy to see, but one problem with the color coded bracelets is that they don't mean the same thing in all hospitals as of yet.

That means nurses from a hospital in a different city may confuse what color means what.

"We've gone with a model where the colors are standardized," Dr. Pranav Mehta said. "We have more than 20 states that have adopted the same colors, and we think that eventually these colors will become standard across the nation."

Another issue is the band, DNR, "do not resuscitate," for patients who have decided they don't want their lives prolonged artificially. Some critics say this band may be disturbing to visitors or relatives who are not aware of the patient's decision. But wearing the bands is voluntary.

"We're looking for a balance between safety, which is very important, and to honor and respect patients' wishes in their end of life decisions," Dr. Mehta said.

Dr. Mehta says that New York state and the Greater Hospital Association has recommended three bands in three colors as the highest risk conditions. Other bands indicating other alerts, such as no transfusions, may come in the future. New York's 11 public hospitals have the band program.

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STORY BY: Medical reporter Dr. Jay Adlersberg

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