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Color‐coded wristbands: Promoting safety or confusion?

Copyright © 2007 Society of Hospital Medicine

A 62‐year‐old man was transferred from an outside hospital for evaluation of a complicated spinal infection. Like many patients, he had color‐coded wristbands to help identify potential safety hazards (see Fig. 1). The patient, an educated and alert individual, could describe the indications for only 3 of the 5 wristbands, and the transferring hospital supplied no legend. As it turned out, the green band represented a fall risk, the red one a drug allergy alert, and the purple one a tape allergy, whereas the white one was for patient identification. We're still not certain what the yellow one represented, but it was not a Lance Armstrong Livestrong bracelet; such wristbands have been reported to cause confusion in hospitals that have adopted yellow for their do not resuscitate wristbands.1 Although attempts at ensuring patient safety by using color‐coded wristbands are a common practice, the lack of standardization may pose an unknown hazard. Elsewhere in this journal, we present findings from a survey reinforcing the need for standardization around this issue.

Figure 1

A hospitalized patient with several color‐coded wristbands and unclear indications for each of them.

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