Published in: The Birmingham News
Issue/Volume: September 1, 2008
Written by: Anna Velasco

9/1/2008 – The problem is lack of standardization. What the colors mean vary from hospital to hospital, which can confuse the many doctors and nurses who work at more than one.

“Our hospitals were using every color in the rainbow,” said Keith Granger, chief executive officer of Flowers Hospital in Dothan and chairman of the association’s quality task force. “It just made sense to us as an industry to have a standardized system.”

Starting Jan. 1, the hospital association is asking all Alabama hospitals to adopt the following code:

Yellow for a patient at risk for falls.

Red for a patient with a food, medicine or other serious allergy.

Purple for a patient who does not want to be resuscitated.

Alabama is modeling its standardization on a program Arizona hospitals began. More than 20 states have adopted the same three colors. The next push will be for the American Hospital Association to promote the system nationally.

Granger said he expects about 95 percent of the state’s hospitals to comply with the new color coding. Educational materials are being distributed to hospitals to prepare the staff.

Some hospitals have used more than three colors to signify more types of conditions, but research indicates using only three different wristbands has the greatest impact, said Rosemary Blackmon, executive vice president of the Alabama Hospital Association.

“If you get too many colors, you lose the effectiveness,” she said.

Granger said the color coding is just the latest patient safety measure Alabama hospitals have adopted recently. Other efforts include medication safety efforts and a system many hospitals are using to track and curtail hospital-spread infections.

“I don’t believe most people understand the tremendous improvements that have been made in the care provided to hospital patients over the last several years,” he said.