Comparison of early warning scores for predicting clinical deterioration and infection in obstetric patients

BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2022 Apr 6;22(1):295. doi: 10.1186/s12884-022-04631-0.


Background: Early warning scores are designed to identify hospitalized patients who are at high risk of clinical deterioration. Although many general scores have been developed for the medical-surgical wards, specific scores have also been developed for obstetric patients due to differences in normal vital sign ranges and potential complications in this unique population. The comparative performance of general and obstetric early warning scores for predicting deterioration and infection on the maternal wards is not known.

Methods: This was an observational cohort study at the University of Chicago that included patients hospitalized on obstetric wards from November 2008 to December 2018. Obstetric scores (modified early obstetric warning system (MEOWS), maternal early warning criteria (MEWC), and maternal early warning trigger (MEWT)), paper-based general scores (Modified Early Warning Score (MEWS) and National Early Warning Score (NEWS), and a general score developed using machine learning (electronic Cardiac Arrest Risk Triage (eCART) score) were compared using the area under the receiver operating characteristic score (AUC) for predicting ward to intensive care unit (ICU) transfer and/or death and new infection.

Results: A total of 19,611 patients were included, with 43 (0.2%) experiencing deterioration (ICU transfer and/or death) and 88 (0.4%) experiencing an infection. eCART had the highest discrimination for deterioration (p < 0.05 for all comparisons), with an AUC of 0.86, followed by MEOWS (0.74), NEWS (0.72), MEWC (0.71), MEWS (0.70), and MEWT (0.65). MEWC, MEWT, and MEOWS had higher accuracy than MEWS and NEWS but lower accuracy than eCART at specific cut-off thresholds. For predicting infection, eCART (AUC 0.77) had the highest discrimination.

Conclusions: Within the limitations of our retrospective study, eCART had the highest accuracy for predicting deterioration and infection in our ante- and postpartum patient population. Maternal early warning scores were more accurate than MEWS and NEWS. While institutional choice of an early warning system is complex, our results have important implications for the risk stratification of maternal ward patients, especially since the low prevalence of events means that small improvements in accuracy can lead to large decreases in false alarms.

Keywords: Early warning systems; Machine learning; Maternal morbidity.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Deterioration*
  • Early Warning Score*
  • Female
  • Heart Arrest* / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Pregnancy
  • ROC Curve
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment / methods