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Wisconsin hospitals standardize color codes

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New Richmond News
Wisconsin hospitals standardize color codes
New Richmond Wisconsin 127 South Knowles Avenue 54017

Westfields Hospital in New Richmond is among many health facilities in Wisconsin that have implemented a color-coded wristband program to help improve patient safety.


The colored wristbands will help health care professionals know the histories of patients who may enter their facilities, according to Westfields Director of Quality Therese Stecher.

A patient wearing a yellow wristband is identified as a fall risk, allowing professionals to be careful when dealing with that individual.

Someone with a red wristband has allergies that need to be considered before treatment is given.

If someone is wearing a purple band, care providers will know that the patient has requested that they not be resuscitated in an emergency situation. "It's a very clear way to identify the patient's wishes," Stecher said.

Stecher said Westfields agreed to participate in the statewide standardization effort in the middle of 2008. As of March 1, nearly 80 percent of the hospitals in Wisconsin have met the voluntary standard set by the Wisconsin Hospital Association to standardize their color-coded patient alerts. The association had hoped to achieve 100 percent participation by March 1.

"We decided to participate because we felt it was a key initiative in promoting patient safety," Stecher said. "Standardization provides a signal that is the same for everyone."

Color-coded wristbands and other visual communication tools used in hospitals alert physicians, nurses and other health care professions to a patient's unique needs and wishes.

Many Wisconsin hospitals use color-coded alerts as a way of quickly identifying important information about patients. Wristbands, stickers and placards are commonly used to identify allergy warnings, fall risks or do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders.

However, until now, there has not been a standard that offers direction to hospitals as to what color identifies which alert. Many health professionals work in multiple health care settings, so they must memorize multiple, sometimes conflicting, color-coded alert systems.

The move to standardize color-coded alerts was fueled by reports of serious medical errors being narrowly averted. Standardization of these alerts improves communication across the state and reduces the risk of an error when patients are transferred from one hospital to another, or physicians and staff work in more than one hospital.

"We have a lot of movement of both patients and health care providers in multiple settings, even across state lines," according to Dana Richardson, WHA vice president of quality initiatives. "Standardizing how we alert these professionals to patient conditions just makes good sense. It is our hope to eventually see a national color standard set for these alerts."

Wisconsin and Minnesota have standardized to the same set of colors, while Illinois, Michigan and Indiana are currently reviewing their alert systems.

"Although we did not meet 100 percent goal of statewide standardization by March 1, we are thrilled to be so close, and we are aware of more hospitals that will have this process in place very soon," according to Richardson. "This voluntary, statewide standardization project is yet another example of our hospitals' commitment to work together to improve the safety of the care they provide to their patients."

Richardson said hospitals are asking patients to remove "social cause" wristbands, which can also be a potential source of confusion for care givers.

Apart from Westfields, other area hospitals that have also agreed to standardize their color coding are Amery Regional Medical Center, Amery; Baldwin Area Medical Center, Baldwin; Hudson Hospital & Clinics, Hudson; Osceola Medical Center, Osceola; and St. Croix Regional Medical Center, St. Croix Falls.

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