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Rapid response systems

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Rapid response systems (RRSs) have become a routine part of the way patients are managed in general wards of acute care hospitals (Box 1).1 They are used in most hospitals in Australasia, North America and the United Kingdom and are increasingly being used in other parts of the world. They operate across the whole hospital and aim for early identification of seriously ill patients, at-risk patients and patients whose condition is deteriorating, using abnormal observations and vital signs (calling criteria). If any of these criteria are breached, the bedside nurse or doctor triggers a rapid response by clinicians who have the expert skills, knowledge and experience to initiate a coordinated response to any hospital medical emergency.

Traditionally, the most junior doctor and the bedside nurse were the first-line management team caring for patients in acute care hospitals. Interns were expected to assess and manage patients with deteriorating conditions, with little experience in the complexities involved in caring for more seriously ill patients. In the early 1990s, it started to become evident that many potentially preventable deaths and serious adverse events were occurring in acute care hospitals.2,3

Errors were ascribed to the system in which clinicians operated, rather than…