Context: Identification of patients is one of the first steps in ensuring the accuracy of laboratory results. In the United States, hospitalized patients wear wristbands to aid in their identification, but wristbands errors are frequently found.
Objective: To investigate if continuous monitoring of wristband errors by participants of the College of American Pathologists (CAP) Q-Tracks program results in lower wristband error rates.
Setting: A total of 217 institutions voluntarily participating in the CAP Q-Tracks interlaboratory quality improvement program in 1999 and 2000.
Design: Participants completed a demographic form, answered a questionnaire, collected wristband data, and at the end of the year, best and most improved performers answered another questionnaire seeking suggestions for improvement. Each institution's phlebotomists inspected wristbands for errors before performing phlebotomy and recorded the number of patients with wristband errors. On a monthly basis, participants submitted data to the CAP for data processing, and at the end of each quarter, participants received summarized comparisons. At the end of each year, participants also received a critique of the results along with suggestions for improvement.
Main outcome measures: The percentage of wristband errors by quarter, types of wristband errors, and suggestions for improvement.
Results: During 2 years, 1 757 730 wristbands were examined, and 45 197 wristband errors were found. The participants' mean wristband error rate for the first quarter in 1999 was 7.40%; by the eighth quarter, the mean wristband error rate had fallen to 3.05% (P <.001). Continuous improvement occurred in each quarter for participants in the 1999 and 2000 program and in 7 of 8 quarters for those who participated in both 1999 and 2000. Missing wristbands accounted for 71.6% of wristband errors, and best performers usually had wristband error rates under 1.0%. The suggestion for improvement provided by the largest number of best and most improved performers was that phlebotomists should refuse to perform phlebotomy on a patient when a wristband error is detected.
Conclusions: The wristband error rate decreased markedly when this rate was monitored continuously using the CAP Q-Tracks program. The Q-Tracks program provides a useful tool for improving the quality of services in anatomic pathology and laboratory medicine.