Our Opinion: Hospitals lack standard codes for emergencies

Emergencies require a coordinated response, not confusion.

We were surprised, therefore, to learn last week that hospitals in Missouri have not adopted uniform emergency codes.

The Missouri Hospital Association (MHA) reported hospitals in the state “are leading a nationwide shift to standardized emergency codes.”

Although it is good news that a transition is underway, it’s bad news it hasn’t been in place previously.

The MHA reported 75 percent of Missouri hospitals use “code blue” for serious medical emergencies and 90 percent have adopted “code red” for fires. The association added: “There’s significant variation from facility to facility on the meaning of color code alarms.”

Why is standardization important?

“Many health care workers provide care in multiple facilities, all of which have been using a different set of codes,” said Herb B. Kuhn, MHA president. “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.”

MHA convened a statewide work group in 2012 to standardize hospital codes, a change supported by federal agencies and medical associations.

The association said the work group produced a set of primary and alternative codes and an implementation guide for hospitals.

“Although voluntary,” MHA said, “more than eight in 10 hospitals started implementing portions of the work group’s recommendation, beginning Jan. 1”

Standardization, which remains incomplete, seems sensible. If there are exceptions or reasons to delay implementation, we’d like to know what they are.


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