Code Lavender

Code Lavender

Calling a best practice code that brings healing and humanity back into healthcare

The alarms and flashing monitors, the tangle of high-tech equipment, the policies and protocols, the fatigue and stress—all are realities in today’s hospital. It can be easy to lose sight of the humanity in healthcare.

Bridget Duffy, MD, is calling a Code Lavender to put it back in focus.

Code Lavender is “the integrative healing equivalent” of a Code Blue, says Duffy, who has trademarked the concept through ExperiaHealth, the San Francisco healthcare consultancy, and subsidiary of Vocera, where she is cofounder and CEO.

For Code Lavender, a hospital forms a second type of rapid response team, similar to the ones used in a Code Blue patient resuscitation. But a Code Lavender team is for a different kind of crisis: caring for patients, families, and employees who’ve reached an emotional breaking point or state of fatigue.

Integrative medicine for “always events”

Duffy says first learned about the elements of Code Lavender through her work with Earl Bakken, whom she calls a friend and mentor. Bakken founded medical device maker Medtronic and later retired to Hawaii, where he became a driving force behind the creation of the North Hawaii Community Hospital. NHCH emphasizes the balanced use of conventional and integrative medicine and has used a Patient Lavender code for more than a decade. (Read more about NHCH on Better Thinking for Better Health).

When the Cleveland Clinic sought to improve its patient outcomes and experience and appointed Duffy as its first “chief experience officer” in 2007, she put Code Lavender into practice there.

A Code Lavender team can include chaplains, social workers, nurses, and others. When the code is called, the team chooses its healing actions based on the situation and the people involved, offering guided imagery, prayer, meditation, aromatherapy, music, energy-channeling therapy called Reiki, or simply quiet conversation, hot tea, a snack or a hug.

Other employees who hear the Code Lavender page are encouraged to stop for a moment and send their healing energy or prayers to the person in need. In that way, the code offers everyone a chance to slow down, take a deep breath, and rebalance themselves in a fast-paced and stressful environment.

Duffy says Code Lavender should become an “always event” in healthcare—a standard of care that provides the tools and services patients and families need when dealing with a significant and deeply stressful event, such as a death, a traumatic accident or a life-saving surgery.

“Those organizations that thrive under healthcare reform will have a list of these ‘always events’ along with protocols and systems to care for the emotional needs of patients, families and staff,” she says. “This is about restoring sacred healing moments to healthcare.”

Higher patient satisfaction ratings

More than 15 hospitals now offer some form of Code Lavender, according to Dr. Duffy.

Cleveland Clinic launched Code Lavender in the fall of 2008. Within a few months, it found that 98% of patients receiving a code said it had helped them, and 90% said they would recommend Code Lavender to another patient. More than 40% of Code Lavender calls were made for employees, who gave even more positive ratings to the program.

Duffy says North Hawaii Community Hospital measured improved employee morale and engagement along with improved patient satisfaction scores after implementing Code Lavender.

And at Twin Rivers Medical Center in Kennett, Missouri, she says the launch of a program called Sacred Moment, which includes components of Code Lavender, helped increase patient satisfaction scores (the federal government’s Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems scores) from 33% to 66% in less than a year.

Back to healthcare’s fundamental mission

To succeed, Code Lavender needs a champion and a home within a hospital and a systematized approach. Because of the demands already placed on doctors and nurses, Duffy says it helps if Code Lavender becomes part of some existing process or department.

Often, the biggest obstacle Duffy faces in helping a hospital implement Code Lavender is convincing her fellow physicians of its value.

“When you engage physicians, the work happens much more quickly,” she says. Once they understand that addressing the emotional needs of patients can lead to better healing and create loyalty that leads to revenues, she has seen them become the program’s best advocates.

Duffy asks providers to center themselves on healthcare’s most fundamental mission: “Don’t lose the connection to the reason you entered health care in the first place. This is sacred work. We are here to help people heal.”