Ideas That Work: Code Word Calls Coworkers to Action


The National Ambulatory Surgery Center in San Jose, Calif., shares a small campus with other medical offices. Last spring, a man barged into the center’s administrative suite, where Marisa Ynchausti, RN, BSN, was working alone. The man claimed to be looking for a doctor who was caring for his friend, a cancer patient whom he said needed urgent medical attention. Ms. Ynchausti, the center’s clinical nurse manager, calmly informed the man that the physician did not work at the facility and the best thing he could do for his friend was to call 911. The man continued to mumble incoherently, so Ms. Ynchausti paged two of her coworkers, telling them she needed immediate assistance. As soon as they arrived, the intruder left. “The incident was discussed at a meeting, and staff members suggested coming up with a code word that would alert others that someone on the team was in danger and needed help,” says Ms. Ynchausti. They came up with a monosyllabic word that was easy to recall, but not one an intruder would recognize as an obvious call for help such as the name of a superhero or popular protagonist from film. It’s now understood that staff members who are not caring for sedated patients will gather as quickly as possible around the staff members who use the code word. “Merely being outnumbered is often enough to drive an intruder away,” says Ms. Ynchausti. “Of course, this scenario and code word apply only if the intruder is unarmed.” She suggests reviewing the code word and its proper use every quarter during routine staff meetings. 

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