Wilson Medical will provide emergency alerts in plain language

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Beginning Nov. 1, the emergency codes at Wilson Medical Center will sound a bit different than they have in the past.

We are joining the North Carolina Hospital Emergency Management Council, in conjunction with the North Carolina Hospital Association, in implementing a proposed set of standardized emergency alerts. The standardization is being initiated in an effort to make sure everyone involved knows exactly what is happening in the event of an unfolding emergency situation.

Under the new protocol, emergency codes will no longer be announced as colors, such as “Code Pink.” Instead, the announcements will be clearly descriptive and easy to understand. The old Code Pink (which for hospital staff meant possible infant abduction) will now be announced “Missing Infant.” The hospital staff will have the same emergency response per our plan; in addition, our families and visitors will now be aware of the situation.

Recent research has shown that most people prefer to know exactly what is going on when they are exposed to an emergency situation, especially in an unfamiliar environment. Several states did consumer surveys before implementing the plain language program and determined an overwhelming majority of the patients and visitors questioned wanted to have a clear understanding of what was going on while they were in the hospital. This reduces questions, confusion and lost reaction time, and enables everyone who is physically able to be actively involved in the resolution.

Plain language communication addresses three types of events that occur in hospitals — facility alerts (i.e. hazardous material spills and fires), security alerts (i.e. missing infant) and medical alerts (i.e. cardiac arrest or stroke). Because they are universally recognizable, a few of the well-known codes will remain the same — Code Blue (cardiac/respiratory arrest), and Stroke Alert.

The new alerts are based on carefully selected plain language communications. Clear communication provides clear direction for health care professionals, patients and visitors, and increases staff, patient and public safety within the hospital. The new initiative also greatly reduces the variation of emergency codes among North Carolina hospitals, promoting a safer transition from one facility to another. It also promotes transparency of safety procedures.

So what does all this mean to you as a patient or visitor at Wilson Medical Center? It means that real emergency events, as well as regularly scheduled drills, will be announced in the new plain language so everyone will be clear about what is happening. A concerted, well-orchestrated plan of action is critical in an emergency situation, and concise communication gives all of us a head start on the resolution.

Nora Finch, registered nurse, is the emergency preparedness coordinator at Wilson Medical Center. She is also the director of organizational development, health and wellness.