Measuring the modified early warning score and the Rothman index: advantages of utilizing the electronic medical record in an early warning system

J Hosp Med. 2014 Feb;9(2):116-9. doi: 10.1002/jhm.2132. Epub 2013 Dec 19.


Early detection of an impending cardiac or pulmonary arrest is an important focus for hospitals trying to improve quality of care. Unfortunately, all current early warning systems suffer from high false-alarm rates. Most systems are based on the Modified Early Warning Score (MEWS); 4 of its 5 inputs are vital signs. The purpose of this study was to compare the accuracy of MEWS against the Rothman Index (RI), a patient acuity score based upon summation of excess risk functions that utilize additional data from the electronic medical record (EMR). MEWS and RI scores were computed retrospectively for 32,472 patient visits. Nursing assessments, a category of EMR inputs only used by the RI, showed sharp differences 24 hours before death. Receiver operating characteristic curves for 24-hour mortality demonstrated superior RI performance with c-statistics, 0.82 and 0.93, respectively. At the point where MEWS triggers an alarm, we identified the RI point corresponding to equal sensitivity and found the positive likelihood ratio (LR+) for MEWS was 7.8, and for the RI was 16.9 with false alarms reduced by 53%. At the RI point corresponding to equal LR+, the sensitivity for MEWS was 49% and 77% for RI, capturing 54% more of those patients who will die within 24 hours.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cohort Studies
  • Databases, Factual / standards
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Electronic Health Records / standards*
  • Electronic Health Records / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index*
  • Triage / standards*