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What to consider when choosing a patient wristband

Posted by Zebra EMEA

May 13, 2016 at 7:41 AM


Accurate patient identification (ID) is vital if a hospital is to protect its patients and staff, and provide the best standard of care. Fundamental to ensuring this is a hospital’s use of patient wristbands. In our survey of public and private hospitals throughout Europe, conducted by IDG on behalf of Zebra Technologies, we wanted to learn what decisions hospitals are making with regards to patient wristbands and why.

Recent advancements in technology have given hospitals the opportunity to deploy new systems that can enable better information accuracy, efficiency and patient care. The question is – are they using it, and if not, why?

Our survey revealed that 78% of hospitals are still using handwritten wristbands. This time-honoured approach requires little investment and training, but is prone to inaccuracy and is very inefficient. However, 70% also said they are using printed wristbands that include barcodes. On top of this, 57% use printed wristbands (with no barcode), just over a third use Radio Frequency ID (RFID) and biometrics and 29% use a photograph on file. Hospitals appear to be deploying new technology but are adopting a mixed method approach, holding on to older methods while adopting new ones at the same time.

So what should hospitals be doing if they are to adopt a more effective, accurate system of patient ID?

The mixed method we see currently is concerning for a number of reasons. Technological solutions like barcode wristbands and RFID offer hospitals a number of benefits; they can streamline processes to allow more time for staff to focus on patient care, save time by automating laborious tasks and improve accuracy when entering or retrieving data. All in all, this leads to a marked improvement in the standard of care given to a patient. However, these benefits are not possible unless a hospital adopts a unified approach. Accuracy cannot be maintained if one staff member is handwriting wristbands and the other is printing them. If a number of staff are using older, less efficient methods, hospitals are unlikely to see any significant increase in the amount of time a staff member can spend with patients.

This leads to the second reason a mixed method can have a negative impact on hospitals. The deployment of new technologies will have required an initial investment and time spent on staff training. Yet if hospitals are not adopting the new solution entirely, they are unlikely to be realising the full benefits of that investment. Suddenly, the new solution looks to be causing more problems than it has solved when in fact, it is the original method that is mostly likely causing the problems.

Furthermore it’s confusing for staff, who are using two, potentially three different methods of patient ID. One of the top barriers our survey revealed to adopting ID technology was staff resistance. Writing a patient’s name on a wristband will continue to seem like the easier method simply because of its familiarity unless staff are shown otherwise. As long as hospitals adopt this patchwork of methods, staff will continue to use the time-honoured approaches and unless educated properly as to the benefits of technology solutions, will reject new methods.

Clearly hospitals need to re-evaluate their patient ID methods. If they have already invested in new technology solutions, they need to embrace this new approach fully and not cling on to old methods, as this will only undermine the potential benefits of the new system, while also confusing Healthcare_IDG_Report_Thumbnail.jpgstaff. 

Our latest survey, ‘Patient Identification Technologies and Associated Applications in European Hospitals,’ explores the challenges in healthcare today and how these can be overcome by hospitals by embracing new technologies, including patient ID technologies.

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Topics: Healthcare, Wristbands, EMEA, Patient Identification