What do the colored flags outside your doctor’s office mean?

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When walking into an exam room in your doctor’s office, you may notice a series of colorful flags attached to the wall next to the door frame. They look a lot like the colored tabs often attached to the edges of folders, but unlike those you can usually write on or slip a label inside, medical tabs don’t usually say what they mean.

In fact, the meaning depends on the health facility you are in. There is no regulatory body that standardizes the colors of the flag, so it is up to individual personnel to decide on a system (or decide to use them at all). Flags could indicate the status of the room, the type of care a patient needs, or a combination of both.

According to the medical supply manufacturer Medicus Health, green sometimes indicates that a room is ready to be occupied; red means the room is already occupied; blue means a nurse is needed; yellow means the patient is at risk of falling; black means the patient needs an x-ray; and white means a patient is there for a physical exam. Pyramid Medical Management Services offers slightly different examples: Red means the room is empty; green means the patient is waiting for the doctor; and yellow means they need a nurse.

As for how your doctor’s office uses them, you should ask. But you can also make inferences based on your own observations. If the nurse says, “The doctor will be with you soon”, and then extends the green flag on the way out, it is reasonable to assume that this means “the patient is waiting for the doctor”.

Medical suppliers offer a plethora of variations that offices can order depending on the color coding system chosen. There are products with just two flags, muted colors, and more; customizable sets are also available. Even more mainstream retailers like Amazon and Staples keep them in stock, just in case you want to order some to decorate your own door frames.

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