Failure to Rescue Deteriorating Patients: A Systematic Review of Root Causes and Improvement Strategies

J Patient Saf. 2022 Jan 1;18(1):e140-e155. doi: 10.1097/PTS.0000000000000720.


Objectives: "Failure to rescue" (FTR) is the failure to prevent a death resulting from a complication of medical care or from a complication of underlying illness or surgery. There is a growing body of evidence that identifies causes and interventions that may improve institutional FTR rates. Why do patients "fail to rescue" after complications in hospital? What clinically relevant interventions have been shown to improve organizational fail to rescue rates? Can successful rescue methods be classified into a simple strategy?

Methods: A systematic review was performed and the following electronic databases searched between January 1, 2006, to February 12, 2018: MEDLINE, PsycINFO, Cochrane Library, CINAHL, and BNI databases. All studies that explored an intervention to improve failure to rescue in the adult population were considered.

Results: The search returned 1486 articles. Eight hundred forty-two abstracts were reviewed leaving 52 articles for full assessment. Articles were classified into 3 strategic arms (recognize, relay, and react) incorporating 6 areas of intervention with specific recommendations.

Conclusions: Complications occur consistently within healthcare organizations. They represent a huge burden on patients, clinicians, and healthcare systems. Organizations vary in their ability to manage such events. Failure to rescue is a measure of institutional competence in this context. We propose "The 3 Rs of Failure to Rescue" of recognize, relay, and react and hope that this serves as a valuable framework for understanding the phases where failure of patient salvage may occur. Future efforts at mitigating the differences in outcome from complication management between units may benefit from incorporating this proposed framework into institutional quality improvement.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Humans
  • Quality Improvement*