Some hospital staff confuse emergency codes, study finds

Many hospital employees are unable to identify the meaning of emergency codes, which could hinder an urgent response to incidents, according to a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

The study, which included 304 clinical and nonclinical employees at five Georgia healthcare facilities, found staff correctly identified emergency codes 44.4 percent of the time. Codes for fire, infant abduction and cardiac arrest were the most well known of the 14 examined. 

"The results of our study suggest a prompt response to such incidents is likely to be poor, as most employees were unaware of the meanings or actions of these notifications," study author Morgan Taylor, a doctoral student at the University of Georgia's College of Public Health in Athens, said in a Jan. 17 news release. 

Employees who received training at orientation, understood emergency code activation procedures and worked at their respective facility for two to five years were more likely to accurately identify codes. Accuracy was lower in staff members who worked at four or five different healthcare organizations, suggesting that the lack of standardized code colors across the healthcare industry may confuse employees.

The findings point to the need for additional employee training and accessible job aids or code pocket guides, researchers said. They also made a case for switching from color codes to plain language emergency alerts to reduce employee confusion.

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