JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — On most hospital television dramas, “code blue” indicates a serious medical emergency. In the real world however, only three-quarters of Missouri hospitals have used this as a standard code. In fact, aside from “code red” for fire, which has been adopted in 90 percent of Missouri hospitals, there’s significant variation from facility to facility on the meaning of color code alarms.
In 2012, the Missouri Hospital Association convened a statewide work group to address the variation in hospital codes and to develop consensus on a new set of state code standards. The work group’s efforts led to agreement on a set of primary and alternative codes and production of an implementation guide for hospitals. Although voluntary, more than eight in 10 hospitals started implementing portions of the work group’s recommendation, beginning Jan. 1.
“In the event of an emergency in the hospital, there’s no time for confusion about the meaning of an alarm code,” said Herb B. Kuhn, MHA president and CEO. “A standard set of codes, with emphasis on plain language that includes a concise statement of the type of alert, the event and brief description, will help caregivers immediately understand whether the incident involves them or their patients, what actions need to be taken and how to respond.”
The Joint Commission, a hospital accreditation organization, recommended the adoption of standardized codes in 2012. This change is supported by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security, the National Incident Management System and the Institute of Medicine.
Missouri hospitals are leading a nationwide shift to standardized emergency codes. Several hospital systems that operate hospitals in Missouri have standardized the codes developed in Missouri for their system hospitals in other states. Moreover, MHA’s guidance and approach for adopting statewide standardized codes also is being promoted and considered for adoption in seven other states.
“Many health care workers provide care in multiple facilities, all of which could have been using a different set of codes,” Kuhn said. “By standardizing these alarms, caregivers will be able to respond quickly. Moreover, the addition of plain language will help patients and visitors understand what’s happening.
Because two color codes, red for fire and blue for medical emergency, were generally recognized and used by the majority of hospitals, the work group determined it was appropriate to maintain these two color codes. The work group proposed adoption of plain language as the recommendation for other common hospital codes.
“Missouri hospitals are committed to providing quality care and safeguarding patients, visitors and staff,” Kuhn said. “Standardizing the code system is yet another step that hospitals in this state are taking to deliver care more efficiently and improve the patient experience, and that increases value.”
The Missouri Hospital Association is a not-for-profit association in Jefferson City that represents 154 Missouri hospitals. In addition to representation and advocacy on behalf of its membership, the association offers continuing education programs on current health care topics and seeks to educate the public about health care issues.