Monitoring vital signs using early warning scoring systems: a review of the literature

J Nurs Manag. 2011 Apr;19(3):311-30. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2834.2011.01246.x.


Aim: To evaluate the need for, and the development and utility of, pen-and-paper (Modified) Early Warning Scoring (MEWS/EWS) systems for adult inpatients outside critical care and emergency departments, by reviewing published literature.

Background: Serious adverse events can be prevented by recognizing and responding to early signs of clinical and physiological deterioration.

Evaluation: Of 534 papers reporting MEWS/EWS systems for adult inpatients identified, 14 contained useable data on development and utility of MEWS/EWS systems. Systems without aggregate weighted scores were excluded.

Key issues: MEWS/EWS systems facilitate recognition of abnormal physiological parameters in deteriorating patients, but have limitations. There is no single validated scoring tool across diagnoses. Evidence of prospective validation of MEWS/EWS systems is limited; neither is implementation based on clinical trials. There is no evidence that implementation of Westernized MEWS/EWS systems is appropriate in resource-poor locations.

Conclusions: Better monitoring implies better care, but there is a paucity of data on the validation, implementation, evaluation and clinical testing of vital signs' monitoring systems in general wards.

Implications for nursing management: Recording vital signs is not enough. Patient safety continues to depend on nurses' clinical judgment of deterioration. Resources are needed to validate and evaluate MEWS/EWS systems in context.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Critical Illness / nursing
  • Decision Support Systems, Clinical
  • Humans
  • Inpatients
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / methods*
  • Nurse's Role
  • Patient Care / methods*
  • Safety*
  • Time Factors
  • Vital Signs*