What Does Code Blue, Code Black, and Code Red Mean?

Medical Author:
Medical Editor:

"Code Red" "Code Blue" "Code Black"...people sometimes wonder what these terms mean if they happen to hear them used in a hospital (or more likely, hear them used on a TV series about doctors). The ABC TV series "Grey's Anatomy" seems to have sparked an renewed interest in the topic of "Codes" in medicine with their 2006 episode entitled "Code Black." In 2015, a CBS television show with the name "Code Black" was debuted, offering an inside look into a busy Los Angeles Emergency Department.

Technically, there's no formal definition for a "Code", but doctors often use the term as slang for a cardiopulmonary arrest happening to a patient in a hospital or clinic, requiring a team of providers (sometimes called a "code team") to rush to the specific location and begin immediate resuscitative efforts.

Each hospital or clinic can decide how it wishes to manage and inform staff of potential emergencies. Many institutions use colors (e.g. "Code Red", "Code Blue") to identify specific types of emergencies. "Code Red" and "Code Blue" are both terms that are often used to refer to a cardiopulmonary arrest, but other types of emergencies (for example bomb threats, terrorist activity, child abductions, or mass casualties) may be given "Code" designations too. Colors, numbers, or other designations may follow a "Code" announcement to identify the type of emergency that is occurring.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/6/2015

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors