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Finding a better way to identify patients

November 1, 2006
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An addiction medicine hospital implements more durable wristbands and name tags

Patient safety and privacy are vital to any healthcare organization. At Brighton Hospital, a 92-bed addiction medicine hospital in Brighton, Michigan, a patient's confidentiality is a critical element of treatment for substance abuse and addiction.

Brighton is subject to strict confidentiality laws that do not allow the hospital to use a patient's last name as an identifier. Visible patient identification is limited to the patient's first name and last initial.

Historically, Brighton used wristbands with a plastic sleeve and lapel name tags for patient identification for both its inpatient and outpatient programs. Staff members would write a patient's first name and last initial on paper and insert it into the wristband's sleeve. The hospital often would have to replace patients' wristbands, as ink would fade or discolor, or the wristband would break.

The hospital used a similar process for name tags, which included a handwritten first name and last initial and a passport-like photo stapled to the tag. The process of creating and re-creating the wristbands and name tags was both costly and time consuming.

“These processes created work-flow issues because our staff members were spending a significant amount of time replacing wristbands and name tags since they would wear out quickly during a patient's stay,” says Denise Bertin-Epp, president of Brighton Hospital. “A patient with an illegible wristband is as much of a concern as a patient without a wristband. We recognized that our patient identification process and solutions needed to be updated, both for the benefit of our staff as well as the safety of our patients.”

Brighton also is moving toward implementing electronic medical records (EMRs), and the hospital needed a patient identification solution that would facilitate integrating point-of-care and administrative activities with the e-records system.

Brighton decided in 2005 to implement a new patient identification solution in two phases. The first phase replaces the current tools and processes with a more durable wristband and labeling solution that, in phase two, will use bar-code technology to integrate with EMRs.

The new wristband system includes durable, high-resolution wristbands, digital cameras, software, and direct thermal printers, which use heat to create text, bar codes, and photos directly on the wristband. In phase one, wristbands include patients' name and photo, and bar codes will be added in phase two to help enhance patient care, eliminate medical errors, reduce costs, address regulatory requirements, and prevent fraud.

Staff now capture patients' photographs at admission. The high-resolution photographs are stored in the hospital's information system and are available for future stays and/or other documentation.

The wristbands are made of a durable latex-free material and feature either a tamperproof snap closure or adjustable adhesive closure. Because they are printed using an on-demand direct thermal printing process, there is no printer ribbon or toner cartridge to replace. The wristbands are designed for extended stays, and staff do not have to continually replace illegible or damaged wristbands.

The wristband system vendor also developed a direct thermal label to replace the hospital's handwritten name tags. The durable name tag labels use the same printer and include a patient's name and photo. This removes a number of steps from the hospital's previous method, including taking photos, assembling the name tags, and repeating the process when name tags wore out or were exposed to water.

“At Brighton Hospital, we are continually committed to reviewing our practices and the quality of the care we deliver,” adds Bertin-Epp. “Since implementing the new wristband system, we have recognized an efficiency of work flow, as well as a cost savings. With the new wristbands and name tags, durability, legibility, and printing space are not an issue, and the wristbands will enable us to implement a bar-coding process in the future.”

Bertin-Epp concludes, “We will continue to innovate and use technology to create more efficient processes, which will create more time to focus on patient care.”

Kevin Wilson is head of Kevin Wilson Public Relations, Inc. Brighton Hospital is a member of St. John Health, the largest provider of inpatient care in southeast Michigan, which includes 125 medical centers and nine hospitals serving five counties. The personal identification system that Brighton implemented is Personal ID by General Data Company (