Most hospitals have handwritten or barcoded wristbands for their patients, which usually mean that checks are neither automated nor reliable. However, several hundred hospitals across the world have electronic RFID wristbands from organizations such as Precision Dynamics. These contain unambiguous digital data that can be checked even if the band is covered with bedclothes. They cost 30 cents to one dollar and the advent of printed electronics will make them much more affordable. This will come in two stages, firstly the printing of the HF antennas, eventually by high speed reel to reel printing using the state of the art inks from Cabot, NanoMas Technologies etc, and then printing even the transistor circuit vurrently in the, inevitably expensive, silicon chip. 200 companies are working on that.
To see the gothic horror of working with some non-electronic wristbands and of avoidable hospital errors in general, look no further than the UK.
Hospital staff gave the wrong treatment to the wrong patient on almost 25,000 occasions between February 2006 and January 2007, leading to deaths, serious injury and long term harm, new UK official figures show.
Of these more than 2,900 related to non-electronic wristbands used to identify patients, their use causing patients to have the wrong operation, the wrong (blood) transfusion, the wrong medication or the wrong diagnostic test. These incidents involved significant harm and in some cases death. An investigation found that the colour red on a wristband had eight different meanings in different NHS trusts ranging from "allergic to penicillin" to "does not have English as a first language".
The agency issued a warning notice to all NHS trusts urging them to take "immediate action" to produce a standard wristband. It set a deadline of July 2008 for its introduction.
Errors in identifying patients lead to at least 500 a week getting the wrong treatment, the National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) said. The agency admitted the total could be much higher because many incidents went unreported.
Mistakes also happened when staff relied on first names. One incident where a nurse on a ward for the elderly came looking for a patient called Elsie to take a blood sample for a transfusion, discovered there were two Elsies on the ward and a sample was taken from one while the transfusion was intended for the other. That very nearly led to a serious incident.
Last year the NPSA reported 41,000 medication errors between July 2005 to July 2006 which caused 36 deaths. A further 2,000 patients suffered "moderate or severe harm."
In 2005 the National Audit Office reported that nearly one million errors or safety lapses had occurred in the previous year causing 2,000 deaths. Half of the incidents could have been avoided if staff had learnt from past mistakes.
To keep up to date with Printed Electronics in the healthcare industry attend Printed Electronics Asia 2007 or Printed Electronics USA 2007. Also read Printed and Thin Film Transistors and Memory 2007-2027 and RFID in Healthcare.