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Change of protocol for neonatal care unit cut back on mistakes

Imagine for a moment that you work in a neonatal care unit. A baby has just been born, but with some complications. You and your fellow medical professionals need to take care of this baby, as well as myriad other babies, that are in your neonatal care unit. So, here is the question: since this baby was just born and the parents haven’t decided on a name yet, how do you identify this baby? In fact, how do you identify all the babies? What naming protocol would you come up with?

Most neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) use a simple and generic naming protocol with names such as “babygirl” and “babyboy” being augmented with numbers to identify each baby. These names are put on wristbands that are then put on the babies. One study found that about 80 percent of NICUs use this type of simplified naming to identify patients.

But here’s the problem with this naming structure: all the patients wristbands start to look the same, even with the differentiating number. And, as a result, it is far easier for medical professionals to make mistake and incorrectly identify the patients.

So one NICU at a hospital in Milwaukee tried to correct the problem, and it appears that they may have found a dramatically better naming protocol. Instead of generic names, they use dynamic and customized names such as “Wendysgirl” and “BabyJackson” (while still accompanying the names with numbers). The switch to this naming protocol reduced wrong-patient electronic orders by 36 percent.

Source: Vox, “How one hospital protected newborn babies from medical errors — just by changing their wristbands,” Sarah Kliff, July 25, 2015

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