Hospitals throughout Delaware adapt a uniform color coding system for patient wristbands, a system that provides more immediate information to doctors and nurses.


As of this month, life has gotten just a little bit easier for busy nurses in Delaware hospitals with the adoption of a uniform color code for patient wristbands.

All hospitals in the state now will use the same three colors to identify critical patient characteristics on their identification bracelets.

The unification puts an end to what was once a significant challenge for nurses who shuttled between hospitals with different color coding systems.

Bonnie Perratto, chief nursing executive for the Bayhealth hospital system, said many nurses work through agencies that send them to various hospitals.

“If you come from another organization and everyone has adopted the same color codes and the same protocols, you don’t have to go thorough that reorientation in your mind,” she said.

That reorientation can be difficult in a stressful environment, and it leaves the door open for serious errors.

In 2005 a woman in Pennsylvania almost died when a nurse mistakenly attached to her a colored wristband that meant “do not resuscitate” in that hospital, but indicated something completely different in the nurse’s other hospital.

The incident sparked a national debate that led to the adoption of a standardized color code in more than 30 states, including Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland.

“The incident in Pennsylvania kind of coalesced interest in this issue,” said Wayne Smith, president and CEO of the Delaware Healthcare Association. “It was an obvious candidate for standardization across the industry. For our region it will be perfect because all the sates that touch us will have the same colors.”

In every hospital in those participating states, red will denote patient allergies, yellow will indicate a fall risk and purple will show the patient has a standing “do-not-resuscitate” order.

Perratto also said the uniform code makes it easier for nurses and doctors to determine at a glance what kind of care a patient needs.

            “In hospitals patients go many places, they go to the OR, they go to X-ray, they go to physical therapy,” she said. “Their chart does go with them to many places, but the chart identification is kind of an older, passé way of identifying things.

“You want to have it as close to the patient as possible so everyone that is treating the patient, anyone who is administering any medications or any procedures, knows the full capacity of the patient.”

Bayhealth was one of the first hospital systems in the state to adopt the code, Perratto said, and in the year since it did so, accidents and mistakes have been curbed.

“Our fall numbers have decreased, and as far as allergies, that’s something we’ve always been alert to and we haven’t had any incidents as a result of patients being allergic to medications,” she said. “I think the nurses and the physicians all feel that they have more communication about the patient everywhere the patient goes.”

The information recorded on the wristband is also tied to the patient’s electronic medical records, something Perratto said is extremely helpful and more important now than ever.

“All of that information goes in our electronic records and doctors and nurses have access to those electronic records,” she said. “We don’t have a chip in people yet that we can wave a wand over and all the information comes up, but we’re probably not far from that actually.”