Data protection rules may risk patient safety on wards

December 16, 2004

Removing patient name boards from hospital wards because they do not comply with the Data Protection Act 1998 may risk the safe delivery of care to patients, argue researchers in this week's Christmas issue of the BMJ.

Patients in wards used to be identifiable from name boards at the nursing station and by name cards above their beds. Since their removal, patients have been misplaced as no one was aware that they were still in hospital.

Believing this to be an unacceptable and dangerous practice, a team of doctors in Wales did a survey to find out how patients and visitors felt about having patients' names displayed on the wards.

The survey included 243 patients and 215 visitors from orthopaedic and surgical wards. Overall, 233 (96%) patients were in favour of having their names written on name boards, and 194 (90%) of the visitors did not think this infringed upon patients' privacy.

When asked about name cards, 236 (97%) patients and 201 (93%) visitors were in favour of names being displayed. Only 16 (3%) were opposed to having name boards placed in the open

Most patients and visitors do not object to having their names displayed either on cards above their beds or on name boards in front of the nurses' station, say the authors. Name boards and name cards should be clearly displayed to ensure the safe delivery of care to patients, they conclude.


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