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AIM OF STUDY: To develop an early warning score (EWS) system based on the statistical properties of the vital signs in at-risk hospitalised patients. MATERIALS AND METHODS: A large dataset comprising 64,622 h of vital-sign data, acquired from 863 acutely ill in-hospital patients using bedside monitors, was used to investigate the statistical properties of the four main vital signs. Normalised histograms and cumulative distribution functions were plotted for each of the four variables. A centile-based alerting system was modelled using the aggregated database. RESULTS: The means and standard deviations of our population's vital signs are very similar to those published in previous studies. When compared with EWS systems based on a future outcome, the cut-off values in our system are most different for respiratory rate and systolic blood pressure. With four-hourly observations in a 12-h shift, about 1 in 8 at-risk patients would trigger our alerting system during the shift. CONCLUSIONS: A centile-based EWS system will identify patients with abnormal vital signs regardless of their eventual outcome and might therefore be more likely to generate an alert when presented with patients with redeemable morbidity or avoidable mortality. We are about to start a stepped-wedge clinical trial gradually introducing an electronic version of our EWS system on the trauma wards in a teaching hospital.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





1013 - 1018


Institute of Biomedical Engineering, Old Road Campus Research Building (Off Roosevelt Drive), University of Oxford, Oxford OX3 7DQ, UK.


Humans, Critical Illness, Oxygen, Monitoring, Physiologic, Early Diagnosis, Statistical Distributions, Predictive Value of Tests, Blood Pressure, Heart Rate, Aged, Middle Aged, Inpatients, Female, Male, Vital Signs, Respiratory Rate