Healthcare Workers Struggle with Emergency Codes

Workers only matched code words to corresponding emergencies 44 percent of the time.

By HFT Staff
February 2, 2023

A new study by University of Georgia (UGA) researchers found that many healthcare workers did not accurately identify emergency codes. Researchers tested the ability of healthcare staff to identify their facilities’ codes. Having this knowledge front of mind is critical for responding quickly and appropriately to emergencies. 

“Healthcare facilities have traditionally relied upon code-based notifications to quickly and efficiently alert employees to ongoing emergencies within or affecting the facility,” says Morgan Taylor, the co-author and a doctoral student with UGA’s College of Public Health. 

Not all hospitals use color codes, but those that do use separate code words for each emergency. For example, a “code blue” call is often used to alert all hospital staff that a patient’s heart has unexpectedly stopped or that they have stopped breathing and need to be resuscitated. 

No universal standard exists to assign certain codes to specific emergencies. Prior research in this area has shown significant variation among different hospital emergency code systems. 

Taylor and her co-authors focused on the ability of clinical and non-clinical employees in five Georgia health care facilities to correctly identify their facility’s emergency codes. They also assessed employees’ opinions of emergency alert systems and determined individual factors that enabled more accurate identification of emergency codes. 

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