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color-codedWhether you’re going to the hospital for a few tests or major surgery, chances are either you or a family member will have questions involving your care. It can be difficult in today’s hospital environment, however, to identify just who your caregiver is when orderlies, technicians, housekeeping -- and even the general public -- might also be dressed in medical scrubs.

A recent study in "Nursing Management" magazine sheds light on how difficult it can be for patients and families to easily single out nurses from other hospital staff. Patients and families interviewed for the study said it was important to know who to approach when they had concerns and to be able to identify nurses and differentiate them from other health care staff. However, family members reported feeling embarrassed when they approached the wrong person with their questions, which could easily happen as similarly dressed staff members entering a patient’s room could be from as many as 13 different roles. This causes an unsure feeling that could possibly keep them from asking a question or providing important information.

Several of the nation’s hospitals have taken the issue to heart and have begun implementing color-by-discipline medical uniform programs that help patients quickly identify a hospital employee’s role by the color that they are wearing. For example, all nurses might be dressed in navy blue, nursing assistants in hunter green and respiratory therapists in khaki. Hospitals include a brochure in each patient’s admissions packet and hang posters in patient rooms showing the different staff positions and the colors they wear.

“Think about how quickly you can identify a police officer because of the blue uniform. The idea is to bring the same approach into the health care setting,” says Amanda Hutton, program manager for SuiteStyles, a popular color-by-discipline medical uniform program developed by health care manufacturer Medline Industries, Inc.

“Patients want to know who’s in charge of their care. And research shows that patients who are actively involved in their own care and communicate with their health care team have a safer, more satisfactory experience.”

Patient satisfaction has taken on an even greater importance for hospitals because most are now required to submit their results from a survey called the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems in order to receive full reimbursement from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Last year’s survey highlighted the fact that frontline staff members, such as nurses, continue to have the greatest impact on the patient’s overall hospital experience. In fact, the top five national priority issues for improvement in the report all focused on the ability of hospital staff to effectively communicate information and empathy to their patients. Those facts, along with studies showing that what a nurse wears may influence the nurse patient relationship and affect first impressions, can create a dilemma for hospital administrators who currently have an “anything goes” dress code. There can be hard feelings when nurses feel they can no longer express their personality by wearing cartoon prints or changing colors every other day.

“While a color by discipline uniform program does limit a nurse’s color choice, most of the hospitals we work with incorporate a wide range of styles to accommodate individual preferences,” says Hutton.

“The goal is to help the patient with identification and instill confidence that they are being treated by an organized, professional team.”

For more information on color-coded uniform programs, visit


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