It Is A Color-Coded World

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Creative Commons License photo credit: polanri

Have you ever wondered what those calm overhead announcements from the hospital PA system mean? Are you ever curious about the ruckus that ensues behind the scene? Welcome to the color-coded medical world.

Hospital emergency codes are used in hospitals worldwide to alert the staff of various emergency situations. These codes convey essential information to the staff with minimum misunderstanding while avoiding stress and panic among the hospital visitors. The codes are assigned by color however their meanings vary from country to country and even from state to state. This can be quite confusing and misleading.

In 2000, three people were killed because the “wrong emergency code was called.” It was then determined that a uniform code system is essential in effectively carrying out the code. The Hospital Association of Southern California published a handbook titled “Healthcare Facility Emergency Codes: A Guide for Code Standardization” and strongly urged hospitals to implement the revised code.
Since then, most of the major codes have been implemented by most states – such as Code Red, Code Blue and Code Amber.

The information below is true to the state of Maryland.

CODE RED means fire. Code Red 4 West provides information where the fire is. Providing the location allows hospital staff to determine what their responsibilities are even if they do not work on 4 West.

CODE BLUE means cardiopulmonary arrest. The announcement of the code usually follows the unit and/or room number so members of the code team know where to go. The code blue team is usually consist of a physician (usually the ER doc on duty), nurses (an ER and an ICU nurse), pharmacist, nurse supervisor, respiratory therapist, nurse supervisor, security personnel and a chaplain (in some hospitals).

CODE PINK means infant/child abduction. When this code is called, all the exits lock automatically preventing anyone from leaving. Anyone suspicious must be reported to security.

CODE YELLOW means disaster or emergency such as tornado, hurricane, earthquake. Everyone is asked to stay off the phones so the Command Center can call in with instructions.

CODE GREEN means a violent situation involving a combative person.

CODE SILVER indicates a hostage situation with weapons involved. Silver is mnemonic for “gun.” Everyone is supposed to get out of the way and keep the area clear.

CODE GOLD means a bomb threat. Security must be called for any suspicious packages. The unlucky person who receives the call from the bomber is supposed to keep his wits together, keep the caller on the line, ask questions and write down any information or instructions from the caller.

CODE ORANGE indicates a hazardous material spill. Call security and move away from the spill.

On the lighter but not so fragrant side, a nurse calling a CODE BROWN means that he/she requires help in cleaning up a patient who made a big BROWN, stinky mess.

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