Emergency Hospital Codes and a Mass Notification System: Faster Responses Improve Patient Outcomes

Even if you’ve never set foot in a hospital, you’re probably familiar with the concept of emergency color codes. Also known as emergency medical codes, they’re a means of rapidly delivering information with the goal of saving lives and delivering rapid, quality care to patients.

Generally, an emergency hospital code provides three essential pieces of information: It states the nature of the emergency, identifies which hospital personnel should respond and indicates the type of equipment or care required. The intent is to minimize misunderstanding by clinicians while preventing stress and panic among patients and visitors.

Although there has been a longstanding push to unify these codes by color at medical facilities across the United States, different codes in hospitals are still in use, particularly for certain colors. Code orange, for example, often has different meanings at varying facilities. Different hospitals may also employ multiple methods of delivery. Some hospitals use a public address system, whereas others continue to use pagers to alert only specific medical personnel. Although it may surprise you, as of 2017 almost 80 percent of clinical hospital staff were still using pagers.

However, according to the Disaster Recovery Journal (DRJ), the pandemic may usher in the end of the days for pagers. The DRJ predicts that clinical collaboration platforms will soon exceed pagers as the most commonly used method of alerting hospital staff, and for good reason. Advances in communications technology provide hospitals with more effective means of issuing code alerts, saving time and lives.

A critical communications system or mass notification system (MNS), enables hospitals to deliver timely, targeted emergency hospital code alerts. A reliable and powerful MNS automates part of the code calling process and empowers hospitals to do so much more than simply page a clinician.

Data integration capabilities bring your existing online staff directory into the product, ensuring your codes reach the right people by facility, department, location or floor. Pre-created messages and audiences allow hospitals to deliver alerts faster without sacrificing accuracy. In the event of a stroke, for example, hospitals can immediately send out the standard stroke alert, quickly adding or modifying any specific details pertinent to the incident.

In recent years, there have been several major disasters that have demonstrated the importance of critical communications to a hospital’s ability to respond swiftly and appropriately to large-scale traumas. Hospitals must be able to communicate with staff across various channels, make sure they’re reaching the right people and may even need to issue mass notifications in more than one language.

Providers such as NYU Langone Medical Center and Athenahealth are already using OnSolve Critical Communications to improve business continuity and keep the lines of communications open among all workers, regardless of location. An innovative Critical Communications system allows hospitals to:

Send Personnel-Specific Alerts: By virtue of dynamic grouping via artificial intelligence, clinical codes can alert only certain personnel within certain locations, campuses and teams. For example, “Code Stroke” can be pre-created and automatically sent to the designated Stroke Team.

Send Location and Shift-Specific Alerts: Given the rotational nature of hospital work, it's important to alert staff coming onto shift, on break or commuting. It may be safer for these individuals to remain outside the hospital in certain situations, rather than add to the chaos of an event. Once the issue has been resolved, you have the capability to issue an "All Clear" to let staff know it's safe to return to the building or floor.

Deliver Alerts in Multiple Channels: Reach staff via their preferred device – smartphone, desktop, pager or tablet - and their preferred method – email, text, voicemail, desktop alert. This ensures everyone gets the information they need in the way that is most easily and rapidly accessed by them. API integration enables hospitals to issue alerts through the overhead paging system as well, expanding the reach when it’s critical everyone in the building is aware of the code call.

Improve the Bottom Line: Metrics matter when it comes to sustained hospital operations. Mean time to recovery (MTTR) is vital; a mass notification system gives you a measurable edge. Alerts go out faster, which increases the speed and effectiveness of crisis response, thereby reducing your MTTR, so you get back to “business as usual” faster.

Save Lives: Every minute counts™ during a hospital emergency code call. Targeted, timely alerts improve recovery times and patient outcomes.

Lives depend as heavily on a hospital’s logistical and communications competence as on its medical expertise. Just like our front-line workers, swift and accurate communications is essential. Deliver highly targeted alerts rapidly with a powerful and reliable mass notification system.

Interested in learning more? Explore how St. Joseph's Health uses OnSolve Critical Communications to send medical codes and so much more. 


OnSolve® proactively mitigates physical threats, allowing organizations to remain agile when a crisis strikes. Using trusted expertise and reliable AI-powered risk intelligence, critical communications and incident management technology, the OnSolve Platform allows organizations to detect, anticipate and mitigate physical threats that impact their people and operations.