“Paging Dr. Strong” and Other Confusing Hospital Emergency Codes
Hearing “Paging Dr. Strong” on the intercom system does not
necessarily mean the operator is summoning an actual Dr.
Strong. Some facilities use that code to call in the security
guards to deal with misbehaving patients or visitors. Code Silver
in one hospital may refer to “missing person” and in another
“somebody with a gun.” These codes might be standardized across a
hospital or a hospital system, but there is little
standardization across regions or states. Some hospitals list the
dozen or so codes on the back of staff identification cards, but
those too, vary from hospital to hospital.
In May of 2014, the Hospital Association of Southern California’s
(HASC) Security and Safety Committee revised the Healthcare
Emergency Codes to improve the overall experience of individuals
working in healthcare organizations. The committee included
safety, security, licensing and accreditation experts from member
hospitals in the region.
They recognized the lack of consistency among the variation of
codes across hospitals which can become particularly confusing to
staff who work across multiple healthcare organizations. The
standardized set of codes can be used by all healthcare
organizations to improve the safety and communication of hospital
staff, but also for patients and visitors. The HASC guidelines
are available online.
The North Carolina Hospital Association has made an effort to
switch from color codes to “plain language” to avoid confusion.
By the end of 2016, North Carolina hospitals are encouraged to
switch to plain language. While hospitals will have flexibility
to choose language that everybody understands, they will not have
to be confined to a specified set of codes, except for code red,
code blue and code pink, resuscitation, medical emergency, and
child abduction, respectively.
Switching to standardized or plain language codes may improve the
safety and reduce the harm for patients and visitors, and improve
the communication among individuals working in a hospital.