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Visual identifier systems for patients with cognitive impairment in healthcare settings: A survey of practice in UK hospitals

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Dixon‐Woods, Mary 
Martin, Graham 
The DA VINCI Contributor Group 


Abstract: Background: People with dementia and other forms of cognitive impairment form a substantial proportion of patients admitted to hospitals, but problems in their care are persistent. One widely proposed improvement approach involves the use of systems using visual identifiers to help staff quickly recognise people with suspected dementia, with the goal of supporting more personalised care. The aim of this paper is to identify the identifier systems in use and staff perceptions of their strengths and weaknesses. Methods: We undertook an online survey of staff providing care for people with dementia in acute and mental health hospitals across the United Kingdom. The questionnaire covered different types of visual identifier systems for dementia. It used categorical and open‐response questions to access staff views of their use in practice. Responses were analysed using descriptive statistics, and the Framework approach for free‐text answers. Results: 162 responses were received from staff in at least 48 hospitals. Of these, 128 had direct experience of using visual identifier systems. They reported that multiple identifier systems are in use, including schemes with national scope and locally developed approaches. Most respondents reported that more than one system is in use in their hospital. Different types of identifier were seen to have different strengths and weaknesses. Respondents had a broadly positive view of identifiers, but highlighted risks including lack of reliable and consistent use (linked to competing pressures on staff time), lack of staff training, uncertainty about patient and family views, and unclear consent processes. Conclusions: Our study suggests that a wide range of identifier systems is in use in UK hospitals, with many hospitals using more than one. Further consideration should be given to ensuring that multiple perspectives—including those of patients and carers—are drawn on in optimising their design, resolving ethical issues and supporting implementation.



ORIGINAL ARTICLE, cognitive impairment, dementia, hospital care, identification, patient care, person‐centred care, survey

Journal Title

International Journal of Older People Nursing

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Health Foundation (RHZF/001 ‐ RG88620)
Health Services and Delivery Research Programme (NF‐SI‐0617‐10026)