I worked on a team of six students from Yale and the Maryland Institute College of Art on a project to improve patient safety at hospitals.
In addition to participating throughout the design process, I led the hardware prototyping process: experimenting with LCD screens, programming the Pebble Smartwatch, and RFID.
Almost all U.S. hospitals use disposable wristbands to keep track of patient identity, which contain information on name, birth date, and medical record number, for both inpatient and outpatients. By checking the bands before administering medicine, taking samples, or performing surgery, nurses can ensure that patients receive the proper care.
This system, however, is fundamentally flawed; a combination of human error and inadequacy of the bracelets have led to persistent identification errors. Since 2003, the Joint Commission, an organization responsible for monitoring hospitals across the United States, has listed “Improving Patient Identification” as its top goal for patient safety improvement.
We met with nurses at Yale New Haven hospital to understand their concerns with the existing ID band system. We learned that they particularly worried about bands being removed before surgery—and then never getting replaced properly.
For example, one nurse explained: “What happens is that someone goes into the OR, and they get their ID band cut off because of legitimate reasons—to place lines—and they come out, to the CT-ICU [Cardiothoracic Intensive Care unit], and they have no ID….now you’re bringing out those patients to an area unfamiliar with them, and you could easily see two white, bald obese men coming out at the same time.”
We designed an integrated system which caters to the needs of both patients and nurses. Our group at Yale focused on making a smart ID unit with an E-ink screen, active RFID, and modular wear.
For much of the patient’s visit, the unit would be worn on the wrist, like a bracelet; in the OR, though, it could be transferred to a different attachment mechanism, like a retractable clip.
The E-ink screen would provide the patient immediate access to information about her visit, while the active RFID would allow caregivers to track patients through the hospital.
The accompanying application, designed by MICA, gives nurses easy access to chart information and erases the gap between the band itself and key patient information.
We brought our prototype back to the nurses at Yale New Haven, who were excited about the idea of deploying the smart wristband.
The nursing staff was particularly interested in the idea of giving patients access to their schedules on the smart band, as patients currently complain about their lack of access to information. Our smart ID band would give them an easy way to see what is planned on any given day.
The nursing staff was also on board with the integrated “call for help” button and suggested that the current nurse call bell could be easily replaced by our band.
The wide variety of form factors was also seen as a big benefit because there are many patients for whom a wristband simply wouldn’t work (e.g. amputees).
For more details on the project, see the full PDF report.