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The authors (1) have raised a very important issue relating to
recognition and management of a deteriorating patient. Over the years,
cases have been reported where outcome may have been better if
deterioration was recognized in time. Once recognized, an urgent response
by a qualified team could instigate immediate investigations and
management as warranted, possibly averting a poor outcome.
Code blue calls or...
Code blue calls or cardiac arrest teams (2) were first introduced in
1970, with the motive of initiating an urgent response to a deteriorating
patient. By definition, activation of this system occurred after an arrest
had occurred, so patient had no recordable pulse, blood pressure,
respiration and did not respond to noxious stimuli.
However, more gains were to be made by initiating this response
before the patient had reached a terminal stage. Based on research showing
that cardiac arrest usually follows a series of events, attempts were made
to identify these events so as to preempt an arrest before it actually
occurred. Medical emergency teams (MET) were a culmination of these
MET responses, introduced circa 2000 include a critical care
registrar and nurse, among others. Any clinician caring for a
deteriorating patient is encouraged to activate the response though a
rapid response system and can expect help within minutes. Whilst the
concept of MET response is similar to that of cardiac arrest teams, a
fundamental difference is in the timing of initiating the response.
However, the MET response is also activated after a level of
deterioration has occurred. The quest continued to find alarm signs or
signals that indicate deterioration is likely to occur. Once again, the
presumption is that an earlier response, before deterioration has
occurred, should result in a better outcome.
Analysis of hospital admissions suggests an adverse outcome is likely
in about 10% of admitted patients (3). Improving the outcome further,
particularly for these 10%, has triggered a nationally coordinated
approach that is being overseen by the Australian Commission on Safety and
Quality in Health Care (ACSQHC).
A new paradigm as suggested by Jones et al (4) would be required to
drive this further improvement. The focus is now on early detection and
prediction of clinical deterioration, so urgent help can be sought even
before the situation actually worsens. Eight essential elements have been
identified and compiled into a package that is the effort of ACSQHC.
Despite differences, it was encouraging that this consensus statement was
ratified by all state health ministers in Australia (5). The package,
widely distributed throughout Australian hospitals, is hoped to improve
outcomes by encouraging early detection of deterioration, and calling for
These strategies, in addition to the "swimming between the flags"
observation chart and rapid response systems include many other
initiatives with focus on education as one of the essential elements.
Different educational programs and packages such as COMPASS and DETECT (5)
have been developed in Australia specifically to improve practice
regarding the recognition and response to clinical deterioration amongst
1. Hughes C, Pain C, Braithwaite J, Hillman K. 'Between the flags':
implementing a rapid response system at scale. BMJ Qual Saf 2014;23:714-
2. McGrath RB. In-hospital cardiopulmonary resuscitation -- after a
quarter of a century. Ann Emerg Med 1987; 16: 1365-1368.
3. Runciman W and Moller J. Iatrogenic Injury in Australia, A Report
prepared by the Australian Patient Safety Foundation for the National
Health Priorities and Quality Branch of the Department of Health and Aged
Care of the Commonwealth of Australia (2001) available from:
http://www.apsf.net.au/dbfiles/Iatrogenic_Injury.pdf (accessed September
4. Jones AD, Dunbar NJ and Bellomo R. Clinical deterioration in
hospital inpatients: the need for another paradigm shift. Med J Aust 2012;
196 (2): 97-100
5. Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care.
National consensus statement: essential elements for recognising and
responding to clinical deterioration. Sydney: ACSQHC, 2010. Available
Consensus-Statement-PDF-Complete-Guide.pdf (accessed Sept 2014)