Minnesota Hospital Association

Quality & Patient Safety

Emergency Overhead Pages

Variations in the use of overhead paging in hospitals can cause confusion among caregivers, staff and patients and can lead to adverse patient safety events. A survey conducted by MHA in 2010 found 22 different codes for patient abduction; 18 different codes for a security alert; code green indicated four different emergencies; and code yellow had five different meanings. Often staff does not know all the color or name codes for various emergencies. This can be particularly troublesome for health care professionals who work in more than one hospital.  

Minnesota hospitals are making efforts to implement plain language for overhead codes and many hospitals are minimizing overhead pages by communication through other means. MHA aims to help its member hospitals reduce variation in emergency overhead pages. In 2011, with critical input from emergency professionals and the state hospital preparedness coordinators, MHA developed an Emergency Overhead Paging tool kit to help hospitals move toward the use of plain language in overhead pages and to determine which emergency situations need to reach the patients’ and all staff awareness. Hospitals are encouraged to make these changes to improve transparency and communication and help reduce noise for patients.