Plain Language In, Color Codes Out

July 23, 2019
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DETROIT – In a move to enhance the safety of patients, visitors and team members, Henry Ford Health System has changed the way it announces emergency alerts at its health care facilities.

When an emergency occurs such as a cardiac arrest, missing child, materials spill or a mass casualty incident, an alert using standardized plain language will be announced over the building’s loudspeaker. Health care workers are trained to respond to different types of emergencies that occur in a health care setting and have the potential to disrupt operations.

The plain language alerts took effect July 1 after a six-month internal awareness and education campaign. The new alerts replace color-code indicators the health system had been using for years.

“Using plain language makes sense because it minimizes any misunderstanding and confusion at the time an emergency is called. That leads to increased safety for our patients, our visitors and our team members,” says Betty Chu, M.D., Henry Ford’s associate chief clinical officer and chief quality officer. “It also creates a consistent standard for emergency alerts across all of our facilities.”

Henry Ford joins a growing number of health systems and hospitals adopting plain language in lieu of color codes for emergency alerts. Use of plain language is supported by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Incident Management System and The Institute of Medicine.

Emergency alerts are a regular occurrence at hospitals and outpatient facilities at Henry Ford and across the country. To that point, Dr. Chu says patients, their loved ones and visitors who hear an emergency alert should not panic.

“Our response teams are highly experienced and trained to respond to situations that occur in any of our facilities,” Dr. Chu says. “If we needed to relocate our patients, we would do so only out of necessity. Also, if we need people do something, we would give them special instructions.”

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MEDIA CONTACT: David Olejarz / David.Olejarz@hfhs.org / 313.874.4094