Patient Safety Topics
Color-Coded Wristbands

The lack of consistency in wristband meanings and in how they are applied presents problems when patients are transferred among facilities and when patients are cared for by clinicians who work in multiple facilities. A group of healthcare organizations in northeastern and central Pennsylvania  started a grassroots effort, The Color of Safety Task Force, to meet the challenge of making this practice safer. The task force made an implementation manual and other resources available to the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority.

Key Data and Statistics

A hospital in Pennsylvania submitted a report to the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Reporting System (PA-PSRS) describing an event in which clinicians nearly failed to rescue a patient who had a cardiopulmonary arrest because the patient had been incorrectly designated as "DNR" (do not resuscitate). The source of the confusion was that a nurse had incorrectly placed a yellow wristband on the patient. In this hospital, the color yellow signified that the patient should not be resuscitated. In a nearby hospital, in which this nurse also worked, yellow signified "restricted extremity," meaning that this arm is not to be used for drawing blood or obtaining intravenous access.

Fortunately, in this case, another clinician identified the mistake, and the patient was resuscitated. However, this "near miss" highlights a potential source of error and an opportunity to improve patient safety by re-evaluating the use of color-coded wristbands.

To assess the potential scope of the problem, PA-PSRS surveyed the patient safety officers of all Pennsylvania hospitals and ambulatory surgical facilities. The 139 survey respondents represented one-third of these healthcare facilities.

Table. Variety of Medical "Messages" and Colors Used on Patient Wristbands in Pennsylvania Facilities

Excerpted from: Use of color-coded patient wristbands creates unnecessary risk. PA PSRS Patient Saf Advis 2005 Dec 2;(Suppl. 2).

Educational Tools

​Patient Safety: Color Banding
This manual from the Color of Safety Task Force outlines implementation strategies for color-coded wristbands, including staff and patient education.

The Color of Safety: Reducing the Risks Associated with the Use of Colored Wrist Bands
This presentation can be used to educate staff and community members about risk reduction strategies pertinent to color-coded wristbands.

Banding Together for Patient Safety
This educational poster can be used or adapted to reinforce the relationships between the color-coded wristbands and their meanings in specific healthcare facilities.

Standardizing Colored Wrist Bands to Support Patient Safety
This brochure can be used to reinforce a healthcare facility's decision to participate in a patient safety initiative which is aimed at reducing the risks associated with the use of colored wristbands.

Use of Color-Coded Wristbands Creates Unnecessary Risk
This research poster identifies the risk of color-coded wristbands, the results of a usage survey conducted among Pennsylvania patient safety officers, and risk reduction strategies.


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