Background: The modified early warning score (MEWS) is a useful tool for identifying hospitalised patients in need of a higher level of care and those at risk of inhospital death. Use of the MEWS as a triage tool to identify patients needing hospital admission and those at increased risk of inhospital death has been evaluated only to a limited extent.
Aim: To evaluate the use of the MEWS as a triage tool to identify medical patients presenting to the emergency department who require admission to hospital and are at increased risk of inhospital death.
Methods: Physiological parameters were collected from 790 medical patients presenting to the emergency department of a public hospital in Cape Town, South Africa. MEW scores were calculated from the data and multivariate regression analysis was performed to identify independent predictors of hospital admission and inhospital mortality.
Results: The proportion of patients admitted and those who died in hospital increased significantly as the MEW score increased (p<0.001). Multivariate regression analysis identified five independent predictors of hospital admission: systolic blood pressure ⩽100 mm Hg, pulse rate ⩾130 beats per minute, respiratory rate ⩾30 breaths per minute, temperature ⩾38.5°C and an impaired level of consciousness. Independent predictors of inhospital death were: abnormal systolic blood pressure (⩽100 or ⩾200 mm Hg), respiratory rate ⩾30 breaths per minute and an impaired level of consciousness.
Conclusion: The MEWS, specifically five selected parameters, may be used as a rapid, simple triage method to identify medical patients in need of hospital admission and those at increased risk of inhospital death.
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Contributors: VCB had the original idea and wrote the first draft of the paper. GT collected all the data and contributed to the first draft of the paper. CM and VCB performed the data analysis. All authors contributed to the final draft of the paper. VCB is the guarantor of the paper.
Competing interests: None.
Ethics approval: The data used for this manuscript were collected as part of a routine hospital practice audit for quality control purposes. All data were anonymously collected and routine patient care was not affected by the data collection process. The hospital board approved the use of the data for the preparation of this manuscript and deemed that patient consent was not required.