New armband improves patient safety in hospitals

For years, it has been standard practice in hospitals. Patients arriving at registration are issued an armband to identify who they are. In some instances, they may receive two, three, four, and up to five bands of differing colours, each one alerting medical staff of a specific issue, from allergies to ‘do not resuscitate’ (DNR) orders to blood type.

New studies show, however, that armbands – the very tool designed to improve patient safety and reduce risk of error – have the potential to do just the opposite. According to a survey by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, coloured armbands can cause confusion. In one instance, the study found that a patient allergy went unnoticed, causing him to go into anaphylactic shock despite the fact he was wearing a colour-coded bracelet to alert clinicians to his allergy. In another case, an armband designating ‘restricted extremity’ was mistaken as ‘do not resuscitate (DNR)’. A separate U.S.-based study discovered that illegible information on armbands accounted for 24 per cent of all armband-related errors.

In addition, the cutting and chafing caused by the design of some armbands puts patients at higher risk of contracting superbugs, common in today’s hospitals. Due to the rugged and wet nature of care environments, the armbands themselves can also become illegible, leaving even more room for human error. What’s more, a study in the September 2013 Journal of Patient Safety reports that between 210,000 and 440,000 patients each year who go to the hospital for care suffer some type of preventable harm that contributes to their death. Errors may include hospital-acquired infections, medication mix-ups and other mistakes.

Now, hospitals have access to a new solution to patient identification issues, thanks to the development of a groundbreaking new armband that is receiving worldwide attention for its super-softness, low cost and ability to increase patient safety. The supersoft armband is water and chemical proof, and can be comfortably worn for up to 25 days without causing skin irritation, cuts, nicks or sores, or losing legibility. The easily-printable bands also remove the need to use multiple coloured armbands.

Officially launched at the Ontario Hospital Association’s HealthAchieve Conference in November by Toronto-based Medirex Systems, the product is already being used at several Canadian hospitals with rave reviews. Among the first to use the groundbreaking armbands are Newfoundland’s Western Health, and Ontario’s Georgian Bay General Hospital, Perth and Smiths Falls District Hospital and St. Joseph’s General Hospital in Elliot Lake.

St. Joseph’s General Hospital in Elliot Lake, Ontario, which serves 25,000 residents in Northern Ontario, for example, is using Medirex armbands to distinguish between only two patient populations – those at risk and those not at risk – by adding a single red border band to the white armbands to alert clinicians to at-risk patients. Clinicians then rely on information contained in the armband’s barcode or hospital information system to correctly identify the risk. “Our raison d’être for selecting Medirex was to find an armband solution that was legible and long-lasting, that could accurately and readily identify patients,” says Pierre Ozolins, St. Joseph’s Assistant Executive Director, Patient Care Services. “What is the benefit of a readable armband? Nobody really knows the value until you have a catastrophic event that could have been avoided.”

According to Ryan Crocker, one of three regional managers of health information at Newfoundland’s Western Health, “The Medirex armbands are very different from anything else we looked at.” He noted that the product is so soft, he was surprised by its durability, and with cost savings associated with the armband.

At Georgian Bay General Hospital in Ontario, the Medirex armbands – which they describe as having a similar feel to fabric – are being used to identify all outpatients, and have allowed the hospital to move from a four-armband system to a single armband with two colour-coded stickers for alerts, all printable on a single sheet of paper.

As an added advantage, the Medirex armbands make barcode solutions affordable for those hospitals that have yet to implement bedside scanning due to the high cost of other products. Rather than creating the need for revamping an existing system, Medirex armbands include software that interfaces to existing systems, printing armbands and labels in a readable, customizable format that makes it easy to adhere to standards. Initial response to the armbands has been so positive that the company is looking to sell them to hospitals globally starting in early 2014.