Developing strategies to prevent inhospital cardiac arrest: analyzing responses of physicians and nurses in the hours before the event

Crit Care Med. 1994 Feb;22(2):244-7.


Objectives: To determine: a) the frequency of premonitory signs and symptoms before cardiac arrest in patients on the general medical wards of a hospital; b) any characteristic patterns in nurse and physician responses to these signs and symptoms; and c) whether cardiac arrests on the ward occur more frequently in patients discharged from the medical intensive care unit (ICU) than in other patients.

Design: Case series of consecutive patients who had an inhospital cardiac arrest over a 20-month period.

Setting: General medical wards of a 1,000-bed urban public hospital.

Patients: There were 21,505 total admissions to the medical service in this period. Patients whose cardiac arrests occurred in the Emergency Room and ICU and patients with do-not-resuscitate orders were excluded from the study.

Interventions: None.

Measurements and main results: There were a total of 150 cardiac arrests on the medical wards (cardiac arrest rate: 7.0/1,000 patients) with a hospital mortality rate of 91%. In 99 of 150 cases, a nurse or physician documented deterioration in the patient's condition within 6 hrs of cardiac arrest. Common findings included: a) failure of the nurse to notify a physician of a deterioration in the patient's mental status; b) failure of the physician to obtain or interpret an arterial blood gas measurement in the setting of respiratory distress; and c) failure of the ICU triage physician to stabilize the patient's condition before transferring the patient to the ICU. Former ICU patients (cardiac arrest rate: 14.7/1,000 patients) were more likely to suffer cardiac arrest than other patients (cardiac arrest rate: 6.8/1,000 patients) (p = .004).

Conclusions: Cardiac arrests on the general wards of the hospital are commonly preceded by premonitory signs and symptoms. Strategies to prevent cardiac arrest should include training for nurses and physicians that concentrates on cardiopulmonary stabilization and how to respond to neurologic and respiratory deterioration. Special attention should also be devoted to patients who have been discharged from the ICU who are at greater risk for cardiac arrest after ICU discharge than are other medical patients.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence
  • Communication
  • Critical Care
  • Heart Arrest / diagnosis
  • Heart Arrest / nursing
  • Heart Arrest / prevention & control*
  • Hospital Units
  • Hospitalization*
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Interprofessional Relations
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Patient Discharge
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors