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What are hospital emergency codes?

Almost every time you enter into a hospital or medical center in New York City, you are likely to hear messages sent out over the facility’s intercom system. Typically, these messages are meant to page doctors or other hospital staff members, yet every now and then, you may hear an overhead alert beginning with the word “code,” then a color, then a location within the facility. What do these codes mean, and how might they affect you as a patient?

Nearly every hospital or medical center utilizes emergency codes to call for assistance in critical situations. Some of the more common codes (and the situations that they indicate) include:

  •          Code Red: Fire
  •          Code Pink: Infant or child abduction
  •          Code Orange: Hazardous materials spill
  •          Code Black: Bomb threat

Every facility should have set protocols in place to respond to whenever an emergency code is called.

Along with the aforementioned codes, Code Blue is almost universally accepted as indicating a medical emergency, such as cardiac or respiratory arrest. Typically, the nursing staff will initiate a Code Blue, yet some facilities have even taken to placing call lights in patient rooms that allow you to trigger one yourself.

When you are in Code Blue situation, time is of the essence. Study data shared by the National Institutes of Health showed the average response time to Code Blue calls to be around 1 minute and 45 seconds. At the same time, however, the same research indicated that the most common reason for initiating a Code Blue was not always a medical emergency, but rather simple concern for a patient. This may prompt hospital personnel to not place as much importance on such calls. Yet such an attitude could result in a delay on your receiving life-saving treatment when you truly need it. 

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