Mental Floss
BIG QUESTIONS

What Do the Colored Flags Outside Your Doctor’s Office Mean?

Ellen Gutoskey
This one is a tough code to crack.
This one is a tough code to crack. / Omnimed/Amazon
facebooktwitterreddit
This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

On your way into an exam room at your doctor’s office, you might notice a series of colored flags affixed to the wall beside the door frame. They look pretty similar to the colorful tabs often attached to the edges of file folders—but unlike those, which you can usually write on or slip a label inside, the medical ones don’t typically say what they mean.

In fact, the meaning depends on what healthcare facility you’re in. There’s no regulatory body that standardizes the flag colors, so it’s up to each staff to decide on a system (or decide to use them at all). The flags could denote the status of the room, what type of care a patient needs, or some combination of both. 

According to medical supplies 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 a fall risk; black means the patient needs an X-ray; and white means a patient is there for a physical. Pyramid Medical Management Services offers slightly different examples: Red means the room is empty; green means the patient is waiting on the doctor; and yellow means they need a nurse.

As for how your doctor’s office uses them, you’d have to ask. But you could also make some deductions based on your own observations. If the nurse says, “The doctor will be with you shortly,” and then extends the green flag on their way out, it’s reasonably safe to assume it means “patient is waiting on the doctor.”

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

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

facebooktwitterreddit