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Hospitals standardizing codes

‘Code blue’ will mean same to all responders

Washington hospitals are standardizing the codes used to summon help, so that “code blue,” for example, would always mean “cardiac arrest.”

The changes follow a survey that showed at least eight codes were used to call for help when a patient’s heart stopped.

“Clearly, this was variation we had to eliminate,” said Carol Wagner, vice president of patient safety for the Washington State Hospital Association.

Hospitals use codes to call for emergency assistance. It’s a way to summon help without alarming patients and visitors.

With a fluid job market that leads to staff turnover or medical professionals working at multiple hospitals, different code meanings could be confusing.

“When someone calls a ‘code blue’ for a patient going into cardiac arrest, it is vital that a crash team and not the security guards race to the patient’s room,” said Larry Schecter, chief medical officer at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett.

Spokane hospitals participated in the changes. Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center helped create the new standardized codes.

Sacred Heart and Deaconess Medical Center also worked together on a task force to design procedures to color-code patient-room doors to indicate contagious diseases. That’s considered key in curbing the spread of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.

Other new safety measures include color-coded wristbands that help hospital staff identify allergies and other conditions.

Hospitals also will adopt a surgical checklist that includes a timeout before an operation to reduce errors.