A Principle Based Approach to Visual Identification Systems for Hospitalised People with Dementia

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Brigden, TV 
Mitchell, C 
Hall, A 

A large proportion of hospital inpatients are affected by cognitive impairment, posing challenges in the provision of their care in busy, fast-paced acute wards. Signs and symbols, known as visual identifiers, are employed in many UK hospitals with the intention of helping healthcare professionals identify and respond to the needs of these patients. Although widely considered useful, these tools are used inconsistently, have not been subject to full evaluation, and attract criticism for acting as a shorthand for a routinised response. In order for visual identifiers to be used effectively in acute care settings, thorough consideration must be given to the ethical and legal issues that are engaged in this context, and their potential benefits and harms must be weighed and balanced. This paper proposes a set of legal and ethical principles that can be used to guide the implementation of visual identifiers. Together, these principles provide a framework applicable in the design and implementation phases to systematically identify relevant considerations arising from the use of these tools. We outline some tensions that arise between principles, and conclude that selecting a preferred moral framework could help to guide decision-making, as does clarity around the purpose and objectives of the identifier.

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Journal of Bioethical Inquiry
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Health Foundation, Grant/Award Number: RHZF/001 - RG88620; Health Services and Delivery Research Programme, Grant/ Award Number: NF-SI-0617-10026.