01/12/2009 03:31 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

When Is The Best Time To Call A "Code Blue"?

"Code Blue. Dr. Heart. Resus Team to ICU." There are a number of ways to announce within a hospital that help is needed for a patient who has arrested.

My first day as an intern - do not ask how long ago - a child had a cardiac arrest and we resuscitated the baby. Afterward, the Chief Resident was teaching us about what happened and how we could do better. He asked the following question. When is the best time to "call" a cardiac arrest?

It sounded like a ridiculous question but it is actually quite important. The correct answer is: five minutes before it happens.

If you start saving the patient before the heart stops, you have a much better chance of avoiding death or damage to the brain, heart and kidneys.

Might not the same principle that applied to that baby so long ago also apply to the critically ill patient we all need to save, called Healthcare? The best time to call a Code Blue and start resuscitation is BEFORE the patient or system collapses.

So what are we doing? We are watching the patient go down and doing nothing; complaining and seeking someone to blame; or treating symptoms not causes.

The real problem is that those who do not need the health care system right now do not feel any sense of urgency emotionally. Intellectually, they know there is a crisis brewing that can impact them eventually. However, as it does not affect them this minute, and they see healthcare either as an insoluble problem or one that will require a major effort on their part to fix, they ignore it for more immediate concerns like the economy or the playoffs. [To see what you can do, access the section titled "What to do" on this blog.]

To you healthy people I say: the time to act - to call a "Code Blue" - is now, not when you are ill, when you need the system and it will fail you. Start the resuscitation before the system crashes.

Healthcare is heading toward cardiac arrest.
When will you call the Code?