Use plain language for emergency alerts

Plain Language image
Sample plain language alerts, courtesy of Massachusetts General Hospital

Simple is better, especially when trying to convey urgent information during an emergency in a hospital or other health care facility. After decades of issuing alerts using color codes that hide the nature of the emergency, the national standard is shifting to plain-language announcements that include easily understood instructions.

Research shows that a lack of standardization in color-coded messaging leads to misunderstandings. When “Code Blue” means a medical emergency in one facility and a security threat or missing person alert in another, confusion and harm may follow.

A number of organizations, including The Joint Commission, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and more than half of state hospital associations, call for the use of easily-understood alerts. And, for the most part, patients and visitors are not unduly alarmed by plain language alerts. In fact, many will be reassured to know what is happening and grateful for clear direction about what to do.


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