Research Article: The value of vital sign trends in predicting and monitoring clinical deterioration: A systematic review

Date Published: January 15, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Idar Johan Brekke, Lars Håland Puntervoll, Peter Bank Pedersen, John Kellett, Mikkel Brabrand, Shane Patman.


Vital signs, i.e. respiratory rate, oxygen saturation, pulse, blood pressure and temperature, are regarded as an essential part of monitoring hospitalized patients. Changes in vital signs prior to clinical deterioration are well documented and early detection of preventable outcomes is key to timely intervention. Despite their role in clinical practice, how to best monitor and interpret them is still unclear.

To evaluate the ability of vital sign trends to predict clinical deterioration in patients hospitalized with acute illness.

PubMed, Embase, Cochrane Library and CINAHL were searched in December 2017.

Studies examining intermittently monitored vital sign trends in acutely ill adult patients on hospital wards and in emergency departments. Outcomes representing clinical deterioration were of interest.

Performed separately by two authors using a preformed extraction sheet.

Of 7,366 references screened, only two were eligible for inclusion. Both were retrospective cohort studies without controls. One examined the accuracy of different vital sign trend models using discrete-time survival analysis in 269,999 admissions. One included 44,531 medical admissions examining trend in Vitalpac Early Warning Score weighted vital signs. They stated that vital sign trends increased detection of clinical deterioration. Critical appraisal was performed using evaluation tools. The studies had moderate risk of bias, and a low certainty of evidence. Additionally, four studies examining trends in early warning scores, otherwise eligible for inclusion, were evaluated.

This review illustrates a lack of research in intermittently monitored vital sign trends. The included studies, although heterogeneous and imprecise, indicates an added value of trend analysis. This highlights the need for well-controlled trials to thoroughly assess the research question.

Partial Text

Vital signs, including respiratory rate, oxygen saturation, blood pressure, pulse and temperature, are the simplest, cheapest and probably most important information gathered on hospitalized patients [1]. However, despite being introduced into clinical practice more than a century ago, surprisingly few attempts have been made to quantify their clinical performance [2]. In the last few decades, vital signs have become an area of active research [1] and numerous studies have reported that changes in vital signs occur several hours prior to a serious adverse event [3–7].

This systematic review looked at trends in intermittently monitored vital signs and identified two studies eligible for inclusion. Both examined intermittent vital sign trends as an independent predictor of clinical deterioration. Although largely heterogeneous, with a low certainty of evidence, they suggested trends to be associated with deterioration.

The two eligible studies identified suggest that trend analysis of intermittent vital signs would increase the accuracy for detection of clinical deterioration on general wards and in EDs. However, the external validity of these findings is challenging to test–and there is a need to shift the focus towards clinical feasibility. Furthermore, the results of this review show there is no consensus on how to best analyse trends. Given that trend-models are externally validated through well-controlled prospective multicentre cohort studies, authors of this review, consider them promising and welcome as a valuable addition to clinical decision support.




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