1. Home Brother
  2. Business Solutions
  3. Insights hub
  4. Blog
  5. Healthcare
  6. 2022
  7. How poor labelling can have a big impact on healthcare
Doctors stethoscope on top of an illegible handwritten prescription with a key to the terms, highligting the impact of poor labelling

Doctors' handwriting: How poor labelling can have a big impact on healthcare

Doctors have traditionally had a reputation for poor handwriting. And while the majority of their colleagues seemed to understand it, there remained a challenge for consistency.

Times have changed. But a recent survey conducted by Brother and NHE showed that a surprising 12% of healthcare respondents still use handwriting for vital identification processes. However, it is clear from these results that the use of digital technologies, particularly in labelling, is now the go-to solution.

The increase of digital processes and devices brings with it other risks that can affect identification best practice and patient safety. Fortunately, the digitisation of systems can also provide safeguards and constant improvements. This article highlights these areas of risk and how to mitigate against them through a labelling solution.

What is poor labelling?

A crucial element to healthcare provision, labelling includes wristband identification, patient record labels, sample identification and dispensed medication labels. Poor labelling can be caused by a number of factors, from low quality labels being poorly attached and lost in transit, to inaccurate label information.

Inaccurate labelling is a common cause of error. Patient information such as misspelt names or wrong date of birth information makes matching patient identity details and retrieving records difficult, or even impossible. Any dispensed medication bottles that aren’t clearly labelled could mean patients can’t read the directions, warnings or dosage, which could lead to side effects when taken with other medication and seriously impact their health.

Healthcare professionals are incredibly busy and inefficient processes can be a burden, creating more work rather than streamlining as intended. A poorly defined process such as one medical professional collecting multiple samples and passing them on to another for labelling can lead to potential mix-ups and lost samples.

In the time that passes, vital details that the label requires can be forgotten or misrepresented. Applying temporary labels with the intention to attach a permanent one at a later point can also lead to missing details in the transfer from the original label to the new one. 

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust recognised the importance of efficient identification. Working with Brother, they integrated an efficient process combined with barcode identification to minimise the risk of human error in their testing.

Our staff manage in excess of 3 million pathology samples every year, and even if just 1% of the barcodes couldn’t be read, that’s a lot of tests to repeat. So, you can see why quality and accuracy was paramount for us.

Craig Calvert, Project Implementation Lead at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust1 
CD3950 Healthcare blog header and support imagesSupporting image 2

The impact on patients and the cost of errors 

All these scenarios have an impact on patients, the biggest being the inability to provide proper and immediate care based on inaccurate or missing information. In this instance, the worst-case scenario could be that the patient’s experience is significantly impacted. This delay in treatment could set the patient back further and put prolonged stress on them, their friends and their family.

There are more immeasurable effects poor labelling can have on patient experience. Many people find giving samples to be uncomfortable, and with sample labelling errors the patient will be required to provide another sample. This leads to unnecessary anxiety and further discomfort during an already stressful time.

Beyond patient care and safety, poor labelling is not cost-efficient for healthcare providers. Every step of the process costs time and money, for instance, if a blood sample goes missing due to poor labelling, redrawing the sample will cost phlebotomy labour and supplies. The patient will need to be booked back in to draw a second sample which means an increased length of stay at hospital, additional physician time and nursing services to monitor the patient. 

How digital processes and systems can safeguard labelling best practice

The daily volume of people that require medical treatment means healthcare professionals are under constant pressure. Processes must work in this environment, rather than be designed in isolation, to ensure they are appropriate for an environment focused on patient care. Processes that take a long time to complete are being established to fail. 

Digital solutions eliminate the requirement for time-consuming paper processes and also reduce the possibility of human error. They enable healthcare professionals to work more efficiently and give more time to bedside treatment of patients. 

Previously booking in staff would take around one hour 15 minutes to process a batch of tests. Now the information is accessible from barcodes printed on the labels, the process takes just 15 minutes. With thousands of samples being processed every day, they’ve reduced administration time by 500%.

Craig Calvert, Project Implementation Lead at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust2

A digitised system also facilitates competency assessments of staff and the way they are working, so they can be held accountable for consistent mistakes. For example, repeat errors could flag inadequate training, the impact of longer shift patterns or how work environments impact processes beyond the caregivers. Once causes are identified, the necessary staff in-service training can be in implemented where needed. 

An inconsistent or unpredictable environment will always bring risks that may cause human error. There is a chance details will be overlooked, for example, typing errors or a failure to double-check details. Labels that include barcodes, such as wristbands and patient records, give healthcare providers the ability to instantly cross-check the information to identify a patient, retrieve their medical records and automatically update those records so the next caregiver has the latest information.

Saving time, money and patients’ lives

Efficient processes could save medical professionals valuable time and make their overall experience more manageable and less stressful. Staff can focus on their patients without being buried with complex admin tasks meaning they have the best environment to work and save patients’ lives. 

With the simple integration of solutions such as wristband and label printing, hospitals can benefit from clear labels that allow fast patient identification, easy retrieval of records, samples and dispensed medication to be filed or delivered safely, and a process that gives back time to carers - so they can focus on their patients rather than the paperwork.

Brother will be ‘At your side’ to ensure your healthcare setting is getting the best support so you can continue to give an unbeatable service to your patients. 

Read our brochure for more information about Brother’s printing, scanning and labelling healthcare technology solutions.

More from Healthcare

Related posts

Back to top