More hospitals replace color-coded alerts with plain language warnings

More hospitals in North Carolina have abandoned their color-coded alert systems for ones that use plain language in order to improve patient and guest safety and also shorten the response times of people called to the scene, according to The Charlotte Observer.

Carolinas Medical Center is the latest hospital to move away from the long-standing practice of announcing emergencies in the form of color codes, such as "Code Gray" for a violent intruder in the hospital or "Code Blue" for a patient in cardiac arrest, the newspaper reported.

The North Carolina Hospital Association recommends that the plain language alerts include the type of emergency, such as security alert, medical alert or facility alert, and a short explanation of the emergency followed by the location. Although hospitals may not necessarily use the same words, the article said the voluntarily guidelines call for the language to be understandable and leave no doubt about the action required.

The reason for the change: Although hospital staff may understand what the color codes mean, visitors and patients do not, according to the article. The plain language recommendations will reduce errors and keep everyone--staff, patients and visitors--safe, Barb Bisset, executive safety officer for WakeMed Health & Hospitals in Raleigh, told the publication.

Missouri hospitals all moved away from color-coded alerts in 2014 for the same reasons. Being open and honest with patients and visitors is essential in an emergency, especially when minutes or seconds could be the difference between life and death, Missouri officials said at the time. 

Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital has also abandoned the color codes, a decision that may have minimized chaos and saved lives when a visitor killed a cardiac surgeon last year, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- read The Charlotte Observer article

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