Doctors Are Taking Sharpies To Their Scrub Caps — And It Could Save Lives

“You look a little daft because not everyone is doing it.”

Dr. Rob Hackett wears a scrub cap emblazoned with his name and profession not because he doesn't remember who he is, as some colleagues have joked, but because he's trying to improve communication in the operating room. And his idea could save lives.

Dr. Hackett told The Sydney Morning Herald that his coworkers would smirk or even look confused or derisive when they saw "Rob, Anesthetist" printed in bold black letters on his scrub cap. "You look a little daft because not everyone is doing it," he said.

But now, more and more medical professionals around the world — surgeons, nurses, midwives, and other anesthetists — are following his lead. The theory is that surgical teams will work more effectively when everyone knows everyone else's name. After all, these clinicians can work with virtual strangers from other departments or even other hospitals, and when every second counts in the OR, there's no time for confusion or embarrassment.

"When you work across four or five hospitals and with hundreds of people, I'd say [with] 75 percent of staff I walk past, I don't know their name. It's quite awkward," Hackett told The Herald. He recalled a recent cardiac arrest case when he asked a colleague for gloves and the colleague thought he was pointing to the person behind them.

Technically, the World Health Organization's surgical safety checklist includes a step in which surgical staff members introduce themselves before a surgery, but Hackett said this step is often skipped. "When it's done properly there are a few giggles from people, which tells me it's not done regularly," he explained. 

Allison Bridle, a student midwife in the United Kingdom, even started a hashtag to inspire others to write their names and roles on their caps: #TheatreCapChallenge. (Operating rooms are called operating theatres in some countries.) And surgical staff in Europe, North America, South America, and Australia have used that hashtag to show off their scrub caps on social media.

The idea has already won support from experts such as Dr. John Quinn, an executive director at the Royal Australian College of Surgeons. "Anything that increases safety for patients in operating theatres is a good thing," Dr. Quinn told the Herald.

According to The Times, the Royal College of Surgeons also supports the campaign, saying scrub cap identification could combat cases of unconscious bias in which people who don't look like a "traditional surgeon" are mistaken for other staff members.

The #TheatreCapChallenge isn't the first hashtag to ask medical professionals to state their names and roles outright. In 2013, Dr. Kate Granger started the #HelloMyNameIs campaign after she stayed in a hospital where the people treating her didn't introduce themselves.

Indeed, the #TheatreCapChallenge could also comfort patients, as well, especially women undergo caesarian sections who might like to know the jobs of the other people in the operating room.

But even if the patients are unconscious — thanks to anesthetists like Dr. Hackett — cap IDs have the potential to keep operating rooms running smoothly. "No one strategy is going to make a dramatic difference, Professor David Scott, president of the Australian and New Zealand College of Anesthetists, told the Herald. "But knowing who's who in a busy operating room means teams will be able to communicate more effectively."

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