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BACKGROUND: Early warning scores (EWS) are routinely used in hospitals to assess a patient's risk of deterioration. EWS are traditionally recorded on paper observation charts but are increasingly recorded digitally. In either case, evidence for the clinical effectiveness of such scores is mixed, and previous studies have not considered whether EWS leads to changes in how deteriorating patients are managed. OBJECTIVE: This study aims to examine whether the introduction of a digital EWS system was associated with more frequent observation of patients with abnormal vital signs, a precursor to earlier clinical intervention. METHODS: We conducted a 2-armed stepped-wedge study from February 2015 to December 2016, over 4 hospitals in 1 UK hospital trust. In the control arm, vital signs were recorded using paper observation charts. In the intervention arm, a digital EWS system was used. The primary outcome measure was time to next observation (TTNO), defined as the time between a patient's first elevated EWS (EWS ≥3) and subsequent observations set. Secondary outcomes were time to death in the hospital, length of stay, and time to unplanned intensive care unit admission. Differences between the 2 arms were analyzed using a mixed-effects Cox model. The usability of the system was assessed using the system usability score survey. RESULTS: We included 12,802 admissions, 1084 in the paper (control) arm and 11,718 in the digital EWS (intervention) arm. The system usability score was 77.6, indicating good usability. The median TTNO in the control and intervention arms were 128 (IQR 73-218) minutes and 131 (IQR 73-223) minutes, respectively. The corresponding hazard ratio for TTNO was 0.99 (95% CI 0.91-1.07; P=.73). CONCLUSIONS: We demonstrated strong clinical engagement with the system. We found no difference in any of the predefined patient outcomes, suggesting that the introduction of a highly usable electronic system can be achieved without impacting clinical care. Our findings contrast with previous claims that digital EWS systems are associated with improvement in clinical outcomes. Future research should investigate how digital EWS systems can be integrated with new clinical pathways adjusting staff behaviors to improve patient outcomes.

Original publication




Journal article


J Med Internet Res

Publication Date





ICU, UK, United Kingdom, charting, clinical intervention, decision-making, deterioration, documentation, early warning score, electronic charting, hospital, hospital management, intensive care unit, intervention, patient risk, stepped-wedge, track and trigger, vital, vital signs, Humans, Vital Signs, Early Warning Score, Female, Male, Middle Aged, Aged, United Kingdom, Hospitals, Intensive Care Units