In 2004, Lance Armstrong revolutionized wristwear awareness with the yellow silicone Livestrong wristbands. Now, hospitals in Alabama hope to raise awareness of patient safety by adopting a standardized system of color-coded wristbands for admitted patients.
Starting in October, no matter what hospital in Alabama a doctor or nurse is working in, a given color wristband on a patient will mean the same thing:
- Red? Check for allergies.
- Yellow? The patient is at risk for falling.
- Neon bangles? Call the 1980s. (Just kidding.)
The program is modeled after an initiative in Arizona and more than 20 states have taken similar steps, according to Montgomery Advertiser. It reflects a growing emphasis in health care on patient safety and the potential impact of simple changes. Let's stress that word simple. Think of how much easier it is for a doctor who may rotate through several hospitals to remember and internalize one set of color signals that could make a huge difference.
We've written frequently on the cost of medical errors and the potential ways to improve health care quality (and at same time reduce unnecessary costs). The Institute for Healthcare Improvement is a major champion of this cause, and our colleague Tom Emswiler did a series of excellent posts from IHI's recent conference: "Achieving the Triple Aim: The Simultaneous Pursuit of Excellent Health, Ideal Care, and Controlled Costs." (here, here, here, and here)
Each year 98,000 people die because of preventable medical errors, according to estimates by the Institute of Medicine. Standardizing the color of bracelet or checklists that promote hand-washing and infection control may seem insignificant, but in our crowded, complex health care system they can be lifesavers.