ID Badges: You’re the who in the what now?

In Medical Concepts by Brent Thoma16 Comments

In every hospital I have ever worked at I have been confused about who was who at one point or another. Although it hasn’t always been verbalized, I’ve mistaken ward clerks, nurses, nursing students, medical students, residents, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, physical therapists, occupational therapists and attendings in almost every conceivable way. While it might be intuitively obvious to us that respiratory therapists wear red scrubs, medical students wear short lab coats and the ID tags of the attending physicians are outlined in yellow, it is about as straightforward as a Dan Brown novel to everyone else.


While orienting our patients would be reason enough to improve the way that we identify ourselves, I think this is even more essential in a crisis situation. We’ve all walked into a resuscitation room mid chicken bomb explosion. When a patient is decompensating quickly and outside help is coming it is more essential than ever to be able to quickly identify the team members. So why do hospital all hospital ID’s look so generic? Why do they all have such tiny text?? If two employees standing across the bed from each other can not identify each others’ roles is our identification really doing its job?

While I’m sure Massachusetts General Hospital was not the first institution to address this issue, while walking its halls at the start of my fellowship it was one of the first things I noticed. The back page of many MGH ID badges extends below the rest of it in a colorful and obvious way that identifies the employees’ role in huge block letters. An example of one of the Emergency Medicine attending’s ID badges (I have not confirmed that Batman actually works at MGH, but I am looking into it).

Batman Badge

This makes it immediately obvious with a quick glance at either the front OR the back of the badge that Batman is an ATTENDING DOCTOR in the EMERGENCY DEPT (apologies for the poor quality pics). Shortly after I published this post Chris Bond commented with a link to an article by Michael McGonigal that discusses a sticker ID system that their trauma team uses. It’s good stuff!

After asking around, I understand that this is a relatively new thing at MGH that originated in the ED. Props to them! Have any other hospitals gone about this in a different way? Should we follow MGH’s lead?

Dr. Brent Thoma is a medical educator, blogging geek, and trauma/emergency physician who works at the University of Saskatchewan College of Medicine. He founded BoringEM and is the CEO of CanadiEM.