Recognition of patients who require emergency assistance: a descriptive study

Heart Lung. Jul-Aug 2000;29(4):262-8. doi: 10.1067/mhl.2000.108327.


Objective: The purpose of this study was to explore and describe the patient characteristics and the process of recognition nurses use to recognize patients about whom they are seriously worried.

Design: The study design was qualitative, exploratory, and descriptive, and it used in-depth interviews and a purposive sample.

Setting: The study setting included a teaching hospital and a peripheral hospital in a Sydney area health service.

Participants: Participants included registered nurses (N = 32) with 5 or more years of experience and a history of calling the medical emergency team (MET). Mean years of experience as a registered nurse was 14 years, and the mean calls to the MET since employed in current hospital was 16 calls.

Findings: Primary findings showed that nurses relied on 4 patient characteristics to apply the MET criterion, "seriously worried about a patient." These 4 characteristics were (1) feeling "not right," (2) color, (3) agitation, and (4) observations marginally changed or not changed at all. The process used to gather and interpret information to recognize these patients who were deteriorating involved touching, observing, listening, feeling or sensing, and "knowing." In this process of recognition, nurses relied heavily on past experiences and knowledge to detect differences in patient condition.

Conclusions: The 4 characteristics need to be included as an explanation for the MET criterion, "seriously worried about a patient." Additional validation and refinement of the 4 characteristics of the nonspecific MET criterion, "seriously worried about a patient," should be carried out. Continuing education programs in health care facilities need to support the use of subjective information in complex situations that result in decisions to call emergency assistance so patients whose conditions are deteriorating can be identified early and responded to rapidly.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Clinical Nursing Research
  • Decision Making
  • Emergencies*
  • Emergency Medicine / methods
  • Hospitals, Teaching
  • Humans
  • Nursing Diagnosis*
  • Patients / psychology*
  • Severity of Illness Index