A £309,000 grant from the government’s innovation and research agency Innovate UK will enable academics at the University of Derby to investigate how colour-coded trays can help reduce errors in hospital anaesthesia situations.

Leicestershire-based healthcare innovation company UVAMED has developed the ‘Rainbow Trays’ for drug delivery in hospitals, with the aim of reducing the risks of medication error which can be the cause of serious medical harm.

Current practice traditionally involves all anaesthetic drug syringes being placed together in a single non-compartmentalised tray. Yet research has shown that each year 237 million errors occur at some point in the medication process in England alone. Examples include accidental syringe-swaps by anaesthetists when working in highly stressful and tiring situations.

UVAMED has responded by designing and piloting the Rainbow Trays, designed in line with the recommendations of best practice, clinical governance and patient safety as directed by the European Board of Anaesthesiology.

Bev Fawdington, Director of UVAMED, said:

“The internationally recognised ISO critical care colours that identify anaesthetic drugs by type are integral to the Rainbow Trays design.

“The alignment of these colours into designated compartments segregated by colour, reduces the risk of syringe swaps, a preventable cause of medication error in anaesthesia. This standardisation also supports an effective and immediate check and review of administrations throughout the procedure.”

The concept, supported by a consultant-anaesthetist and hospital pharmacist in response to a need for safer working practices, has now been refined by UVAMED to incorporate human factors principles, providing a standardised system to facilitate safer drug preparation, handling and administration.

As part of the 18-month project, academic researchers at the University of Derby’s College of Health, Psychology and Social Care, will conduct a detailed evaluation of the efficacy of the trays.

Their contribution will involve three phases:

  1. Undertaking a task analysis to better understand the role of the Rainbow Trays in the anaesthesia process and potential ‘pinch-points’ where errors are routinely noted
  2. Using this information to design a virtual experiment to investigate the efficacy of the trays with various pressure-point manipulations
  3. Making use of the University’s clinical simulation suite to undertake in-situ testing of the trays, with eye-tracking equipment to better understand processes in anaesthesia-related medication error and the potential benefits of the trays

Research team leader Dr Ed Stupple, Associate Professor in Psychology at the University of Derby, said:

“This project is an exciting opportunity for the University to work with an innovative business from our region, to help generate significant economic and health benefits.

“Using applied psychological research methods, we will be assessing the impact that UVAMED’s Rainbow Tray can make in reducing medication errors.

“The UVAMED system is designed to reduce cognitive load on anaesthetists and this project will examine its efficacy. If it could be reduced, it is envisaged that this can result in reduced medication errors and extra cognitive capacity for the anaesthetist to use in the critical task of patient care.” 

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