Color Codes in hospitals

Color Codes In Hospitals [What Do They Mean?]

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Have you seen medical dramas or been admitted for medical procedures? Ever noticed there are strict color codes in hospitals?

Why do these codes exist? How much do they impact the people who are staying at the hospital?

I will be explaining what these various hospital codes stand for and what you should do when you’re alerted. Knowing these procedures may keep you and the people around you safe.

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Why Are Hospital Color Codes Important?

Hospitals never run out of people; you have your patients, their families, doctors, nurses, and even the receptionists and cleaning staff. It’s always bustling and full of activity.

These are places you go to when you feel sick. However, unexpected emergencies may happen, and the people in charge of the area must know how to manage the situation. 

These emergencies can be internal concerns like a patient’s health or outside problems that may affect the safety of the people in the health center.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a gunman killed himself and three other victims when he went on a rampage at the health center on June 2, 2022. He did it out of revenge against his doctor, who “caused him pain.”

Incidents like these show how susceptible hospitals can be to violent attacks. The staff and patients are all in danger during these moments. 

But let’s not worry; hospital color codes are essential for any health center. These codes alert people to what specific kind of threat they are facing. 

When hospital staff understands the threat, they can follow the safety protocols these codes indicate to keep everyone safe. 

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Code Blue

This code may be the most common in hospitals. It’s used when a patient is in critical condition and needs urgent medical care

Doctors or nurses can declare a code blue, and the patient shows these symptoms:

  • Chest Pain
  • Presyncope
  • Cardiopulmonary Arrest
  • Mental Status Change

A code blue is treated as a life-or-death situation, so a special team must constantly be on standby at the hospital.

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What To Do During A Code Blue

The code blue team’s response to the patient varies depending on the condition. These are the standard procedures they may do.

  • CPR

A doctor or nurse may start the cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) when there’s no heartbeat from the patient.

  • Endotracheal Tube (ET) or Automated External Defibrillator (AED)

Inserting an ET is an intubation method that opens the patient’s airway. This tube will help them breathe.

The AED will help reestablish the patient’s heart rhythm

  • Medications

The team may administer Naloxone to help with breathing or Epinephrine to start the heart. Having a resident cardiologist on the scene can help during code blue situations.

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Code Red

This code shows if there’s a fire or smoke in the hospital. If anyone working in the hospital notices smoke or flames, they can declare a code red. 

How To Deal With A Code Red

Once this alarm rings, you must evacuate from the hospital. Patients and guests must exit first, followed by the hospital staff. 

Next, the staff must close the doors, and everyone should wait in the hallway for further instruction. Never use the elevator when there’s a code red. 

You can quickly remember code red guidelines by remembering the acronym R.A.C.E.

  • R – Rescue everyone in danger.
  • A – Pull the fire alarm.
  • C – Close all the doors to confine the fire.
  • E – Use an extinguisher when you see small fires. 

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Code White

This code works similar to code blue, focusing primarily on children’s emergencies. Some hospitals have decided to combine both categories under code blue, but having a specific signal for pediatric emergencies can lead to a better response. 

What Happens During Code White

Hospitals have similar procedures for situations involving adults and children, but some pediatric emergencies need specialized or smaller equipment. The health staff does revival procedures when dealing with cardiac arrest or presyncope in infants. 

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Code Orange

This code usually means a need for mass evacuation due to potentially dangerous materials. Another name for this scenario is the “hazmat incident”.

These hazardous materials may come from the following sources:

  • Chemical spills
  • Biological contamination
  • Radio-Nuclear contamination
  • Explosives
  • Environment damage from natural, accidental, or intentional incidences

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Safety Tips During A Code Orange

Once there’s a code orange in your hospital, you must stay as far from the contaminated area as possible. Stay as far away from the contamination source as possible for incidents inside the building and wait for evacuation instructions. 

For incidents outside the building, the hospital staff must seal all the entrances and close the windows. Keep the hallways free from foot traffic and don’t allow anyone to step outside the building until the issue is resolved.

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Code Yellow

This code can signify any internal emergency in the hospital. It can mean aggressive behavior, a bomb threat, or even a missing patient

What To Do During A Code Yellow

The staff must stop their non-essential work and follow the protocol of the situation. If it’s a bomb threat, you must search areas for anything that arrived in the 2 or 3 hours. Call the authorities for assistance and don’t touch any suspicious packages.

Here are the aspects the hospital staff must cover when they deal with a code yellow:

  • Find out who in the community could be capable of causing this disruption.
  • Check which patient or family is causing the disruption.
  • Address the appropriate labor issues staff will have from this incident. 

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Code Gray

Code gray is the most appropriate signal when the threat primarily comes from a violent person. The danger may come from inside or outside the hospital, but it’s commonly used for patients that are too violent, aggressive, or abusive

How To Manage A Code Gray

Call the security personnel to help subdue the aggressive patient and keep the other people in the hospital safe. You may also need a psychiatric response team to calm the perpetrator down. 

The lead psychiatrist, nursing supervisor, and social workers can form the psychiatrist response team to control the situation. 

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Code Silver

This safety warning means there is a suspected active shooter in the hospital. The code warning might include a description of the shooter to keep the other people in the hospital safe. 

How To Handle Code Silver

Hospitals usually have an evacuation protocol when dealing with active shooters. Bring all the patients and guests to the evacuation area, and lock all doors leading to it.

Call the authorities to help subdue the active shooter, and ask hospital security to help manage the evacuation process. 

Some hospitals prefer to use plain language instead of “code silver” for an active shooter. They feel this will give a more explicit message about the threat to the patients.

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Code Brown

This hospital code isn’t prevalent, and it usually means there is an external chemical spill. However, code brown got a new meaning when hospitals used it to refer to the COVID-19 pandemic

It was the first time several hospitals issued a Code Brown warning, so it was a challenge for them to deal with the situation. 

What Happens During Code Brown

This code is more of the hospital’s response plan to the global pandemic crisis. They have to plan the rotation and responsibility of their health staff to treat as many people as possible.

Hospitals also have to distribute their equipment to all the afflicted patients. There isn’t always enough, so they have to determine which patients are prioritized based on their condition.

Now, things are more manageable in hospitals; but a code brown can help us efficiently deal with global health issues

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Code Purple

Hospitals use code purple or pink when there’s child or infant abduction. When the staff declares this situation, they must share details about the missing child.

  • What clothes were they wearing?
  • Where did people last see them?
  • Physical features like hair color or skin tone.
  • Details about the person they were last seen with.

These details will help security and hospital staff look for the child and apprehend the abductor. 

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What Happens During Code Purple

When a hospital declares a code purple, the whole building will go on lockdown. People won’t be allowed to exit or enter until they find leads regarding the missing pediatric patient.

A lockdown will prevent the abductor from leaving the building with the child or from accomplices entering the premises. This procedure will also prevent outside people from interfering with the investigation

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Code Clear

After hearing all these possible hospital scenarios, you may be feeling nervous. Luckily, there’s a code the hospital uses to inform everyone that the incident has been resolved; this is called code clear. 

When the staff and authorities declare the code clear, there’s no more danger, and operations can resume to normal.

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So many things could happen to us in the hospital, and they’re not always health-related. We can’t avoid these situations altogether, but hospital color codes can guide us on the correct protocols to follow.

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Until the next one my friend …

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