Hospital Whiteboards: Past, Present and Future

Patti Lael By Patti Lael, Clinical Education Specialist
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April 26, 2018

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Whiteboards have been a part of the communication process in hospitals for over thirty years. I personally have used whiteboards for most of my nursing career and have found it to be an effective communication tool. Although originally used as a communication tool between staff, the whiteboard has transformed into a valuable resource for patient and family communication. With new technologies, integrated digital boards continue to expand the possibilities of use.

Early days

When originally used in hospitals, they were still called grease boards. A primary example of their early presence in hospitals was with Operating Suites. The boards indicated which surgical patients were going to which rooms and the staff involved for each. Having success in operating suites, use then quickly spread to nursing for communication between each other about staff assignments and patient placement. Staff communication was really the first use of whiteboards in hospitals.

Patient-centered Communication

Whiteboards eventually moved into patient rooms to try and help increase the communication between patients, staff and family.

In 2001, when the Institute of Medicine placed an emphasis on patient-centered care, whiteboards made their way into patient rooms to help with communication.1 They were meant to increase patient satisfaction with staff and increase satisfaction all-around for the patient’s experience.

Whiteboard information is solely dependent on staff managing and updating the content on display. In a 2010 study, nurses indicated that the main reasons whiteboards were not being fully leveraged was due to not having enough time to fill out the information on the boards and simply the inability to find a dry erase marker.2 Over the course of my career as a nurse, and in speaking with other nurses, the consensus has been that if the boards are not updated like they should be it causes a large amount of tension between the staff and subsequently patient communication breaks down. For example, if the board lists a normal diet, but the patient status has changed to NPO (nothing by mouth), it can not only be frustrating, but even turn into a safety issue. Many similar situations related to current activity level, discharge date, or even preferred family contacts switch a whiteboard from a helpful tool into one creating unneeded difficulties.

The Digital Difference

With digital whiteboards, the frustrations and challenges of maintaining an accurate display are eliminated. Integrating with electronic patient records and hospital system data allows the boards to automatically update and stay current. Nurses have genuine excitement about digital whiteboards being placed in their facilities. They see this technology as a win for all. Clinical staff are not taxed with continually updating the content and patients are knowledgeable and motivated with their real-time care information. And not to mention nurses no longer have to track down that marker.

According to Dr. Sehgal who conducted the 2010 study, “the most compelling argument in favor of the conscientious use of bedside whiteboards is the potential to enhance patients’ involvement in their own care.”3 The digital whiteboard is part of the future of communication between staff, patients and family.

  1. The Joint Commission: Sentinel Event Statistics, March 31, 2009. Available at:
  2. Sehgal, N. L., Green, A., Vidyarthi, A. R., Blegen, M. A. and Wachter, R. M. (2010), Patient whiteboards as a communication tool in the hospital setting: A survey of practices and recommendations. Hosp. Med., 5: 234-239. doi:10.1002/jhm.638
  3. Gesensway, D. (2010, August). Getting the most out of the humble whiteboard. Today’s Hospitalist. Retrieved from

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