The impact of the use of the Early Warning Score (EWS) on patient outcomes: a systematic review

Resuscitation. 2014 May;85(5):587-94. doi: 10.1016/j.resuscitation.2014.01.013. Epub 2014 Jan 25.


Background: Acute deterioration in critical ill patients is often preceded by changes in physiological parameters, such as pulse, blood pressure, temperature and respiratory rate. If these changes in the patient's vital parameters are recognized early, excess mortality and serious adverse events (SAEs) such as cardiac arrest may be prevented. The Early Warning Score (EWS) is a scoring system which assists with the detection of physiological changes and may help identify patients at risk of further deterioration.

Objectives: The aim of this systematic review is to evaluate the impact of the use of the Early Warning Score (EWS) on particular patient outcomes, such as in-hospital mortality, patterns of intensive care unit admission and usage, length of hospital stay, cardiac arrests and other serious adverse events of adult patients on general wards and in medical admission units.

Design and setting: Systematic review of studies identified from the bibliographic databases of PubMed, and The Cochrane Library.

Selection criteria: All controlled studies which measured in-hospital mortality, ICU mortality, serious adverse events (SAEs), cardiopulmonary arrest, length of stay and documentation of physiological parameters which used a EWS on the ward or the emergency department to identify patients at risk were included in the review.

Data collection and analysis: Three reviewers (NA, AT and EH) independently screened all potentially relevant titles and abstracts for eligibility, by using a standardized data-worksheet. Meta-analysis was not possible due to heterogeneity.

Main results: Seven studies met the inclusion criteria. The results of our included studies were mixed, with a positive trend towards better clinical outcomes following the introduction of the EWS chart, sometimes coupled with an outreach service. Six of the seven included studies used mortality as an endpoint: two of these studies reported no significant difference in in-hospital mortality rate; two found a significant reduction of in-hospital mortality; two other studies described a trend towards improved survival. Although, both ICU mortality and serious adverse events were not significantly improved, there was a trend towards reduction of these endpoints after introduction of the EWS. However only two studies looked respectively at each endpoint. There were conflicting results concerning cardiopulmonary arrests. One study found a reduction in the incidence of cardiac arrest calls as well as in the mortality of patients who underwent CPR, while another one found an increased incidence of cardio-pulmonary arrests. Neither study met all methodological quality criteria.

Conclusion: The EWS itself is a simple and easy to use tool at the bedside, which may be of help in recognizing patients with potential for acute deterioration. Coupled with an outreach service, it may be used to timely initiate adequate treatment upon recognition, which may influence the clinical outcomes positively. However, the use of adapted forms of the EWS together with different thresholds, poor or inadequate methodology makes it difficult in drawing comparisons. A general conclusion can thus not be generated from the lack of use of a single standardized score and the use of different populations. In future large multi-centre trials using one standardized score are needed also in order to facilitate comparison.

Keywords: Clinical outcomes; Deteriorating patients; Early Warning Score; Monitoring; Outreach service; Physiological parameters.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Critical Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Critical Illness* / mortality
  • Disease Progression
  • Heart Arrest / mortality
  • Hospital Mortality
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay / statistics & numerical data
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / methods*
  • Treatment Outcome