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The Color of Safety. Wisconsin Hospitals Color-coded Alert Standard. Impetus for Standardization. National Pennsylvania – wrong color Do Not Resuscitate band applied by nurse who works in two different hospitals with two different protocols Wisconsin

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the color of safety

The Color of Safety

Wisconsin Hospitals

Color-coded Alert Standard

impetus for standardization
Impetus for Standardization
  • National
    • Pennsylvania – wrong color Do Not Resuscitate band applied by nurse who works in two different hospitals with two different protocols
  • Wisconsin
    • Young man transferred from Upland Hills Health in Dodgeville to a Madison hospital for advanced heart care
    • Upon arrival at the Madison hospital, a nurse commented on his Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) wristband
    • The blue patient name-band applied at Upland Hills Health was the same blue color as the Madison hospital’s wristband for DNR status
    • This mix up was immediately clarified and the wristband removed
    • This real life scenario could happen in any Wisconsin hospitals
  • What is meant to be a patient safety communication may have fatal consequences
wha process
WHA Process
  • Medical & Professional Affairs Council
    • Discussed issues related to lack of national or state standard on the use of wristband colors at August 2007 meeting
    • Sent a recommendation to the WHA Board of Directors to create a task force to study the need for standardization in WI
  • WHA Board of Directors
    • Acted on MPA Council recommendation in October 2007
  • WHA Task Force on Wristband Standardization
  • WHA Board of Directors
    • Approved a resolution and task force recommendations in April 2008
wha task force member organizations
WHA Task Force Member Organizations
  • Hospital & Health System Representatives
    • Agnesian HealthCare
    • Aurora Health Care
    • Bellin Health
    • Mayo Health System: Luther Midelfort Oakridge
    • Affinity Health: Mercy Medical Center
    • Ministry Healthcare: Howard Young Medical Center, Sacred Heart-Saint Mary’s
    • ProHealth Care System: Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital
    • Sisters of St. Marys: St. Clare Hospital & Health Services
    • Hospital Sisters Health System: St. Nicholas Hospital
    • Upland Hills Health
  • HOPE of Wisconsin
  • Madison Patient Safety Collaborative
  • Milwaukee County Emergency Medical Services
  • Milwaukee Patient Safety Collaborative
  • Safe Care Wisconsin: MetaStar
  • WI Association of Homes & Services for the Aging
  • WI Division of Public Health
  • WI Hospital Association
  • WI Medical Society
  • WI Society of Healthcare Risk Management
task force assessment of current environment
Task Force Assessment of Current Environment
  • Patient safety is a key focus in all WI health care facilities
  • Variation in WI hospitals
  • Confusion with social cause wristbands (i.e. LiveStrong)
  • State-wide wristbands
    • State of WI DNR bracelet
    • Multiple Victim Tracking ID
  • Healthcare staffing and patient movement
    • Physicians and staff working at multiple organizations
    • Agency staff
    • Multiple state system hospitals & boarder hospitals
    • Patient transfers
  • Human factors research supports standardization
milwaukee area hospital survey
Milwaukee Area Hospital Survey

Note: Each colored X represents a different Milwaukee area hospital

task force findings
Task Force Findings
  • Safety is a key priority for WI health care organizations
    • Near misses have been reported nationally & in WI
    • Many WI systems/regions are interested in standardizing communication about patient information and risks
  • Not all WI hospitals use color as a safety alert
  • For hospitals that do use color as a safety alert, there is variation
    • Safety conditions (DNR, falls, allergies, limb restriction, blood, etc.)
    • Type of alert product (wristband, plaque by room, chart stickers, etc.)
    • Colors use for each alert (purple, blue, red, pink, dots, pictures, etc.)
    • Number of alerts (3-29?)
  • Several states have already adopted color standards including Minnesota (Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana currently evaluating)
wha board resolution passed april 2008
WHA Board Resolution Passed April 2008

The Wisconsin Hospital Association recommends that all hospitals evaluate methods to effectively communicate patient information and risks. In the interim, if an organization uses color-coded alerts to communicate patient information or risks, the association encourages Wisconsin hospitals to use the following colors:

  • Patient identification – White or clear
  • DNR – Purple
  • Allergy – Red
  • Fall – Yellow
purple dnr
Purple - DNR


It is recommended that hospitals adopt the color of PURPLE for the Do Not Resuscitate designation with the letters “DNR” embossed/printed on the alert.

Q. Should we use wristbands for DNR designation?

A. While there is much discussion regarding the issue of “to band or not to band,” a literature review to date has not conclusively identified a better intervention in an emergency situation. One may say, “In the good old days we just looked at the chart and didn’t band patients at all.” However, those days consisted of a work-force that was largely employed by the hospital. Today, an increasing number of healthcare providers working in hospitals are not hospital-based staff or work for more than one facility. Travel staff may not be as familiar with how to access information (as in the use of computerized medical records) or may not be familiar with where to find information in the medical record. When seconds count, as in a code situation, having a wristband on the patient is one way to improve communication and reduce the risk of an error.

Q. Why not use Blue?

A.At first, blue was considered a great color choice. However, many hospitals utilize “Code Blue” to summon the resuscitation team. By also having blue as the DNR alert color, there is the potential to create confusion. “Does blue mean we code or do not code?” To avoid creating any second guesses in this critical moment, we opted to not use blue.

red allergy
Red - Allergy


It is recommended that hospitals adopt the color of RED for the Allergy designation with the word “Allergy” embossed/printed on the alert. Hospitals should develop a consistent process for indicating specific allergy (i.e. – note all allergies in the medical record).

Q. Do we write the allergies on the alert too?

A. It is recommendation that allergies be written in the medical record according to your hospital’s policy and procedure and should not be written on the alert for several reasons:

  • Legibility may hinder the correct interpretation of the allergy listed.
  • By writing allergies on the alert someone may assume the list is comprehensive. However, space is limited on an alert and some patients have multiple allergies. The risk is that some allergies would be inadvertently omitted—leading to confusion or missing an allergy. By having one source of information to refer to, such as the medical record, staff of all disciplines will know where to find a complete list of allergies.
  • Throughout a hospitalization, allergies may be discovered by clinicians such as dieticians, radiologists, pharmacists, etc. This information is typically added to the medical record and not always to the alert. By having one source of information to refer to, such as the medical record, staff of all disciplines will know where to add newly discovered allergies.
yellow fall risk
Yellow - Fall Risk


It is recommended that hospitals adopt the color of YELLOW for the Fall Risk designation with the words “Fall Risk” embossed/written on the alert.

Q. Why did you select Yellow?

A. Research of other industries tells us that yellow has an association that implies “Caution!” Think of traffic lights: yellow lights mean proceed with caution or stop altogether. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has designated certain colors with very specific warnings. ANSI uses yellow to communicate “Tripping or Falling hazards.” This fits well in healthcare when associated with a Fall Risk. Caregivers want to know to be on alert and use caution with a person who has history of previous falls, dizziness or balance problems, fatigability, or confusion about their current surroundings.

Q. Why even use an alert for Fall Risk?

A. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are an area of great concern in the aging population.

  • More than a third of adults age 65 years or older fall each year.
  • Older adults are hospitalized for fall-related injuries five times more often than they are for injuries from other causes.
  • Of those who fall, 20% to 30% suffer moderate to severe injuries that reduce mobility and independence, and increase the risk of premature death.
gray multiple victim
Gray – Multiple Victim

Patient Tracking System

Wisconsin is implementing a Patient Tracking system that will allow hospitals and other authorized persons to determine the hospital(s) to which a person, involved in a multiple victim incident (defined as five or more patients being transferred to one or more hospitals), has been transported. This will assist hospitals with family reunification.

Q. Who applies the multiple victim ID band?

A. The gray multiple victim wristband will be applied by EMS in the field when there is a multiple victim incident. The gray multiple victim wristband may also be applied to the patient by the hospital if the patient presents and the hospital is able to identify that the person was involved in a multiple victim incident.

Q. What should we do if we need to remove the multiple victim ID band during the hospitalization?

A. The hospital may remove the gray multiple victim wristband if there is a medical or treatment reason to do so. However, the Patient Tracking policy requests that the wristband remain on the patient until admission to a secondary hospital, i.e. secondary is the second hospital to which the patient may be transferred.

task force recommendation
Task Force Recommendation
  • Hospitals that do not use color alerts, should not start
  • Hospitals using color alerts (wristbands, stickers, etc.) are encouraged to use the WI standard to improve communication
    • Patient identification – White or clear
    • DNR – Purple
    • Allergy – Red
    • Fall – Yellow
  • Other color alerts based on hospital choice
    • Limit additional alerts to only those needed
    • Use only primary and secondary colors; avoid shades of colors
  • Select wristbands with preprinted text
    • Do not write allergies or other patient specific information on wristbands except for patient identification
  • Engage the patient and their family in a dialog to identify risk
    • Request patients remove colored social cause wristbands
other considerations
Other Considerations
  • For patients with a state DNR wristband
    • State DNR wristband applies to community and emergency services only
    • Evaluate DNR status upon admission
    • Cover but do not remove the State of Wisconsin DNR wristband
  • Multiple victim ID band (applied by EMS)
    • Gray band with bar coding
    • Do not remove unless required to do so for medical purposes
  • CD Content
    • Voluntary WI color-coded alert standards manual
    • Sample policy
    • Sample staff education brochure
    • Sample staff competency check list
    • Sample project plan
    • Sample patient education brochure
  • Distribution
    • CD sent to each hospital
      • Nursing
      • Quality
  • Communication
    • WHA Valued Voice & Web site
    • Other organizational newsletters & Web site
timeline tracking
Timeline & Tracking
  • Goal: 100% voluntary use of WI standard colors by March 1, 2009 for hospitals using color-coded alerts
  • WHA will track progress through Valued Voice and Web site
    • Please return one postcard per hospital to Dana Richardson at WHA
direct questions to dana richardson wha vp quality drichardson@wha org 608 274 1820

Direct questions toDana RichardsonWHA VP Qualitydrichardson@wha.org608-274-1820