Healthcare professionals are often the last people to know that they need a break. Working in the healthcare field can easily result in burnout, as it’s a demanding job that requires large amounts of emotional, mental and physical energy. Every shift and every scenario is different. Many are life-or-death situations. Decisions that could make or break a patient’s recovery rest in the hands of clinical staff. That’s why proper clinical communications such as hospital codes are so important.

Hospital Codes

Codes are a quick method to communicate an urgent message about a priority or emergency situation within a clinical setting. For instance, code blue indicates a medical emergency that a specialized team must respond to, code red refers to the presence of a fire in a hospital and code black signifies the danger of a bomb threat. These emergency codes and many others are integral pieces of the DNA of a healthcare setting, so much so that when a patient is experiencing an emergency, it’s often known as “coding”.

However, it has only in the past decade or so that hospital codes been used to make reference to the wellness state of a clinical staff member such as a nurse. Nurses are taught to trust their education, their guts, their close-knit team and sometimes just themselves to provide care for patients, even if they risk their own health in doing so. That’s why, in 2008, an experimental hospital code came into use for the purpose of supporting nurses, who are the lifeblood of any hospital.

Code Lavender

This code was pioneered by Cleveland Clinic in an effort to prevent nurses from experiencing long-term mental/emotional trauma as a result of compassion fatigue, alarm fatigue and every other form of fatigue that comes from being in a stressful healthcare environment. Code Lavender is a program by which overstressed or mentally/emotionally exhausted healthcare professionals can receive support that helps them get back on their feet and keep going. Patients and their families can utilize it, too, but the majority of cases come from healthcare professionals. This program recognizes that clinical staff members are human beings too, and are often affected by severe situations such as patient death and emergencies just as much as anyone else—even to the point of severe desensitization.

When a nurse calls Code Lavender, a number of results may occur, depending on the program that the clinical setting runs. Usually, a special team of caregivers and support staff, such as chaplains, doctors and other nurses rushes to their aid to offer holistic support. This support may take the form of manual therapies such as massaging and breathing exercises, spiritual support such as meditation and prayer, expressive arts such as journaling and music and energy-based tools like Healing Touch™ and Reiki. In other circumstances, a clinical staff member or group of members that just experienced a traumatic event are debriefed and encouraged to process the event before being sent back to work.

A Much-Needed Care Tool

This process illustrates the importance of collaboration in healthcare in a way that other processes don’t. Where in most cases interprofessional collaboration is focused on providing proper care for patients, this support is aimed toward helping nurses and other clinical staff remain as alert and mentally fit as possible. This in turn is a boon to patient care, as it is one way that the patient experience is able to be improved. An exhausted nurse will make mistakes much more easily and not be as good at therapeutic communication as one who is mentally sound.

While Code Lavender is an excellent tool that many healthcare organizations have integrated into their caregiving processes, it’s not meant to prevent burnout. It’s a crisis management tool, used to ease the effects of stressful situations so that clinical staff can push through no matter how they’re feeling. It’s meant to help ease the long-term effects of stress from a clinical environment, such as anxiety and PTSD. A nurse who is not supported by her team after a major stressful incident such as a death under her watch may find herself feeling isolated and emotionally compromised—but needing to keep working anyway.

Surveys about Code Lavender at the Cleveland Clinic have reported astounding results. A whopping 40 percent of Code Lavender situations have been requested by nursing staff, with 99 percent of respondents saying they were satisfied or more than satisfied with the results and 98 percent saying they’d recommend it to others. Similarly, in any scenario when a patient called Code Lavender, 93 percent were satisfied by the result and 90 percent said they’d recommend it. Since then, other healthcare organizations have reported similar findings. Keck Medical Center reported in 2015 that they had 21 staff member Code Lavender calls in one month alone that they were able to respond to.

This program has been so successful that at Cleveland Clinic, a new department known as the Office of Patient Experience was formed, which consists of the spiritual care team and holistic care nurses. The Code Lavender program has also set a standard for many healthcare organizations. In fact, in 2011, only three years after the Code Lavender program began, the American Hospital Association (AHA) reported an increase in alternative or holistic medicine services in other clinical environments (42 percent, up from 37 percent in 2007).

Quadruple Aim

Also in the last decade, a shift has occurred in the healthcare field that indicates greater care and attention being paid to helping clinical environments improve for both staff and patients. The Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) developed the long-term healthcare experience improvement goal of Triple Aim, which was quickly turned by many organizations into Quadruple Aim. These four goals, or aims, include improving the health of populations, optimizing health system performance to improve patient satisfaction, reducing per capita cost of healthcare and experiencing joy in work.

Code Lavender has become and will undoubtedly continue to be a driving force that helps clinical settings work toward and achieve these goals. It improves the care experience for patients and medical personnel alike and promotes more effective communication in healthcare by recognizing and providing a solution to a major need.

Vocera and the Experience Innovation Network

Vocera is a leader in the medical technology and clinical experience industry. Their electronic, organizational and human resource solutions work to expedite and improve the quality of medical care. In a healthcare world in which the number of false alarms is staggering, text messaging often isn’t HIPAA compliant and both hardware and software are outdated, Vocera seeks to help.

Their technology allows for alarm management that will assist clinical staff in performing their duties more effectively, with alarm settings that are customizable and which reduce alarm fatigue risk. Their devices are also programmed to accept call commands, making rapid communication a cinch. Secure messaging through text, voice and video allows providers to communicate effectively and reduce the stress of communication problems. These services and more help staff members reach National Patient Safety Goals and stay fit for duty themselves.

Vocera has also developed the Experience Innovation Network, a partnership of healthcare executives and leaders that seeks to foster a unified system of healing throughout the industry. They host webinars, podcasts and events such as the Humanize Health annual summit to collaborate and learn about individual-centered care techniques and discover new ideas. They are truly in the business of improving healthcare communications and the field as a whole.