Varying Hospital Emergency Codes Could Lead to Confusion, State Agency Says

Apr 6, 2015

Be it “code red” or “code blue,” hospitals across the country use codes to identify emergencies. In Pennsylvania these codes vary from facility to facility, according to the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority.

“You could go to one facility and they could call, say a ‘code 99,’ and at one hospital it could mean a fire, and then if you go to another institution, a ‘code 99’ might be a medical emergency for an adult,” said Susan Wallace, patient safety analyst at the authority.

This could lead to confusion for those who work at multiple hospitals, said Wallace. Her organization is recommending the state move toward a standardized code system.

“There are many states that have recognized this as an issue and have gone ahead and standardized throughout their states their code system,” she said.

Going even farther than standardization, the authority suggests not using codes, but rather plain language.

“Such as, if there was a fire, they would just say, ‘fire alarm,’ plus the location and the action required or if there was an act of violence, they could say, ‘active shooter,’ location and action required,” said Wallace.

Following the report, Wallace said there has been interest among hospitals.

“Right now there isn’t a formal committee or a coalition of any sort, but we’re hoping this will stir up some interest to go in that direction,” said Wallace.

The Pennsylvania Hospital Association has recommended a plain-language system, according to Wallace. Hospital Associations of Florida, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin have also recommended the use of plain language.