Performance of early warning and risk stratification scores versus clinical judgement in the acute setting: a systematic review

Emerg Med J. 2022 Dec;39(12):918-923. doi: 10.1136/emermed-2021-211524. Epub 2022 Aug 9.


Objective: Risk stratification is increasingly based on Early Warning Score (EWS)-based models, instead of clinical judgement. However, it is unknown how risk-stratification models and EWS perform as compared with the clinical judgement of treating acute healthcare providers. Therefore, we performed a systematic review of all available literature evaluating clinical judgement of healthcare providers to the use of risk-stratification models in predicting patients' clinical outcome.

Methods: Studies comparing clinical judgement and risk-stratification models in predicting outcomes in adult patients presenting at the ED were eligible for inclusion. Outcomes included the need for intensive care unit (ICU) admission; severe adverse events; clinical deterioration and mortality. Risk of bias among the included studies was assessed using the Quality Assessment of Diagnostic Accuracy Studies 2 (QUADAS-2) tool.

Results: Six studies (6419 participants) were included of which 4 studies were judged to be at high risk of bias. Only descriptive analysis was performed as a meta-analysis was not possible due to few included studies and high clinical heterogeneity. The performance of clinical judgement and risk-stratification models were both moderate in predicting mortality, deterioration and need for ICU admission with area under the curves between 0.70 and 0.89. The performance of clinical judgement did not significantly differ from risk-stratification models in predicting mortality (n=2 studies) or deterioration (n=1 study). However, clinical judgement of healthcare providers was significantly better in predicting the need for ICU admission (n=2) and severe adverse events (n=1 study) as compared with risk-stratification models.

Conclusion: Based on limited existing data, clinical judgement has greater accuracy in predicting the need for ICU admission and the occurrence of severe adverse events compared with risk-stratification models in ED patients. However, performance is similar in predicting mortality and deterioration.

Prospero registration number: CRD42020218893.

Keywords: care systems; clinical assessment; clinical management; emergency department; risk management.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Clinical Deterioration*
  • Clinical Reasoning*
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Risk Assessment