Doctor Writes His Name on Scrub Cap to Avoid Mix-Ups, Becomes a Trend That Saves Lives

April 4, 2019 Updated: April 10, 2019

Australian anesthetist Dr. Rob Hackett had a bright idea one day in the operating theater: he would write his name and job title on his scrub cap for the benefit of his colleagues. As it turns out, this was a genius idea, and the world is catching on.

Photo courtesy of Rob Hackett

Dr. Hackett wrote, quite succinctly, “Rob, Anesthetist,” on his scrub cap and initially endured some mild, good-natured torment from his co-workers. “There were some side remarks, like ‘can’t you remember your name?'” the doctor recalled. But soon, the efficacy of his idea became very apparent.

Speaking to Bored Panda, Dr. Hackett explained: “The #TheatreCapChallenge is an initiative from the PatientSafe Network in response to concerns about how easily avoidable mistakes and poor communication are contributing to rising adverse events for our patients,” he said.

Named apparel is a strikingly simple solution, but it has the potential to dramatically reduce the negative effects of basic human errors.

A recent study from John Hopkins University determined that medical errors were responsible for more than 250,000 deaths per year in the United States, making it the third leading cause of all deaths.

“Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could ‘cure’ the healthcare system and save those lives?” Hackett asked at the 2018 ANZCA Annual Scientific Meeting.

The operating room plays host to a complicated and often rather confusing cacophony of doctors and nurses, as medical teams rally to attend to an endless stream of medical emergencies. As such, every second counts, and every minuscule error could potentially have massive repercussions. Time is of the essence in such an environment.

Scrub caps and surgical masks—by virtue of their germ-guarding properties—necessarily obscure the faces of the doctors and nurses who wear them. It stands to reason, then, that even familiar colleagues may confuse the faces of their peers amid the whirlwind panic of a medical emergency. “When you work across four or five hospitals and with hundreds of people, I’d say 75 percent of staff I walk past, I don’t know their name. It’s quite awkward,” Dr. Hackett shared with The Sydney Morning Herald.

Hackett explained: “I went to a cardiac arrest in a theater where there were about 20 people in the room. I struggled to even ask to be passed some gloves because the person I was pointing to thought I was pointing to the person behind them.”

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The experienced anesthetist also recalled incidents where medical students were mistaken for qualified surgeons, and were asked to perform tasks way beyond their remit. Names on scrub caps, therefore, is a genius time saver. (Not laughing anymore, are you, naysayers!)

Medical professionals everywhere are sharing their selfies using the hashtag #TheatreCapChallenge. Photos showcase varying degrees of artistic creativity: some names are hand-scrawled, while others are professionally printed. But all of them are revolutionizing communication in hospitals and improving the experience of in-patients everywhere.

“It has been adopted around the world with studies from the US and UK demonstrating how this simple idea can decrease human errors in healthcare,” Hackett said.

“All staff in our obstetric theatre now wear scrub caps with their job titles clearly marked on them,” shared the maternity team at the Royal Surrey Hospital’s Maternity Unit in England. “Birth partners, students and visitors are also clearly identified with their name and role written on disposable caps.”

The visible names have helped reduce anxiety for terrified parents-to-be, too: “Parents [said] that they feel much more secure knowing who is in the room with them,” the maternity team continued.

Photo courtesy of Rob Hackett

Hackett, proud to be a pioneer for this game-changing gimmick, even shared photos and testimonials from a number of doctors worldwide, including Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, on his own Twitter account.

“It has been adopted around the world with studies from the U.S. and U.K. demonstrating how this simple idea can decrease human errors in healthcare,” the Aussie anesthetist said.

“It’s so much easier to coordinate when you know everyone’s names. It’s great for camaraderie and it’s great for patients as well. It’s been great interacting with a networked team of passionate individuals from all over the world.”

Not everyone is happy about the initiative, however. Some senior hospital staff have intimated that scrub cap labeling is negatively affecting the chain of command. But Dr. Hackett suggests that change is necessary: “In accepting change they’ll need to accept that what was happening previously, on their watch as it were, was not as good,” he shared. “Within healthcare, this may mean we have to accept we’ve been hurting people, even killing people for years.”

This is often “hard to bear,” the sympathetic anesthetist continued, but it’s a necessary stepping stone in moving towards better communication (and fewer casualties) in the future.

In a written reply to The Epoch Times, Hackett said: “There will be massive improvements to patient safety & care through the introduction of human factors design into healthcare.

“The caps are just one example yet they help expose a lack of understanding across healthcare of what human factors is, and a resistance to the changes required to introduce this scientific discipline.”

Saving time and saving lives in hospitals everywhere, it looks like Hackett’s scrub cap innovation is here to stay!

Hats off (or should we say “Hats on”) to Dr. Hackett!