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Logo of aicSpringerOpen.comThis journalSubmit a manuscriptRegisterSpringerOpen.comAnnals of Intensive Care
Ann Intensive Care. 2012; 2: 20.
Published online 2012 June 20. doi:  10.1186/2110-5820-2-20
PMCID: PMC3425134

Incidence of cardiac arrests and unexpected deaths in surgical patients before and after implementation of a rapid response system



Rapid response systems (RRSs) are considered an important tool for improving patient safety. We studied the effect of an RRS on the incidence of cardiac arrests and unexpected deaths.


Retrospective before- after study in a university medical centre. We included 1376 surgical patients before (period 1) and 2410 patients after introduction of the RRS (period 2). Outcome measures were corrected for the baseline covariates age, gender and ASA.


The number of patients who experienced a cardiac arrest and/or who died unexpectedly decreased non significantly from 0.50% (7/1376) in period 1 to 0.25% (6/2410) in period 2 (odds ratio (OR) 0.43, CI 0.14-1.30). The individual number of cardiac arrests decreased non-significantly from 0.29% (4/1367) to 0.12% (3/2410) (OR 0.38, CI 0.09-1.73) and the number of unexpected deaths decreased non-significantly from 0.36% (5/1376) to 0.17% (4/2410) (OR 0.42, CI 0.11-1.59). In contrast, the number of unplanned ICU admissions increased from 2.47% (34/1376) in period 1 to 4.15% (100/2400) in period 2 (OR 1.66, CI 1.07-2.55). Median APACHE ll score at unplanned ICU admissions was 16 in period 1 versus 16 in period 2 (NS). Adherence to RRS procedures. Observed abnormal early warning scores ≤72 h preceding a cardiac arrest, unexpected death or an unplanned ICU admission increased from 65% (24/37 events) in period 1 to 91% (91/101 events) in period 2 (p < 0.001). Related ward physician interventions increased from 38% (9/24 events) to 89% (81/91 events) (p < 0.001). In period 2, ward physicians activated the medical emergency team in 65% of the events (59/91), although in 16% (15/91 events) activation was delayed for one or two days. The overall medical emergency team dose was 56/1000 admissions.


Introduction of an RRS resulted in a 50% reduction in cardiac arrest rates and/or unexpected death. However, this decrease was not statistically significant partly due to the low base-line incidence. Moreover, delayed activation due to the two-tiered medical emergency team activation procedure and suboptimal adherence of the ward staff to the RRS procedures may have further abated the positive results.

Keywords: Rapid response teams, Outcome and process assessment (health care), General surgery, Hospital mortality, Cardiac arrest

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