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Emergency Medical Service

Perspectives on Rapid Response

What is a Rapid Response System?

Rapid Response System (RRS) is an umbrella term for detecting, responding and managing patients with an acute clinical deterioration, including the Rapid Response Teams (RRT) who are specialised in responding to this type of clinical need. The development of RRS within hospitals was strongly encouraged following the 2005 International Conference on Medical Emergency Teams (METs), which included panel discussions by experts from the specialist fields of patient safety, hospital medicine, critical care medicine and Medical Emergency Teams (METs). This discussion was triggered by the preceding decades of observing high numbers of patients who were subsequently labelled as ‘failure to rescue’ due to both delays in recognition and the inadequate response to the clinical deterioration. The RRS is used as a mechanism to facilitate the effective rescue of seriously unwell patients and thus acts as a safety net for hospitals.

The rapid response framework

The framework that makes up the RRS includes the ‘Afferent limb’ which describes the detection of a clinical deterioration, and the ‘Efferent limb’ which focuses on the responsiveness towards a deterioration


The quality assurance on delivering RRS is pursued through two limbs. The first is the ‘Administrative limb’ which identifies the resources necessary for delivery of the RRS, including the educational package as required by a wide spectrum of professional backgrounds involved in caring for this patient group, as well as the allocation of resources to optimise effectiveness in its delivery. The second is the ‘Quality and Governance limb’ providing a process in which outcomes can be audited, reviewed and reported. Each of the limbs that make up the framework are interlinked, making each component essential in delivering a fully functioning RRS

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Understanding Rapid Response Systems in Healthcare

Past and current perspectives

History of RRS

Rapid Response Teams (RRTs) have become an integral part of patient care within hospitals, aimed at improving outcomes by promptly addressing deteriorating conditions. The establishment of RRTs and the broader concept of Rapid Response Systems (RRS) arose from various studies indicating the need for enhanced patient monitoring to reduce critical care admissions, cardiac arrests, and preventable deaths. Although the initial evidence supporting RRT effectiveness was mixed, with some studies showing no significant impact on mortality rates, others have suggested benefits, particularly when RRTs are frequently utilized.

Empowering nurses

A key component in the success of RRS is the empowerment of ward nurses. They play a crucial role in early detection and management of patient deterioration. Tools like the UK National Early Warning Score (NEWS-2) have been instrumental in standardizing the assessment process, enabling nurses to quickly identify patients in need of urgent care. These systems not only aid in risk assessment but also foster clearer communication among healthcare providers.

Structure of RRS teams

The structure and operation of RRTs can vary significantly across healthcare settings. Since their inception in the 1990s, teams have included diverse healthcare professionals, with leadership roles often held by physicians or nurses. The approach to activating RRTs also differs, with some systems using immediate triggers for acute patient deterioration, while others focus on preventative measures to identify at-risk individuals.


Moreover, RRTs extend their support beyond immediate clinical interventions. They provide educational opportunities for ward staff, enhancing their skills in managing critically ill patients and facilitating safe transfers to intensive care units when necessary. The presence of RRTs also offers psychological support to ward teams, helping them navigate the challenges of patient care within complex hospital hierarchies.

Family involvement

Involving families in the RRT process is vital for maintaining patient safety, especially when communication challenges arise between the primary care team and the patient. Initiatives like Call4Concern allow families to directly request RRT assistance, ensuring their concerns are heard and addressed promptly.


Looking Ahead: The Future of Rapid Response Systems

The landscape of Rapid Response Systems (RRS) is set to evolve significantly, driven by recent advancements in healthcare such as enhanced training for healthcare professionals, electronic medical records, and digital medicine. These innovations promise to refine RRS delivery but also introduce new challenges in maintaining their efficacy.

A critical area of focus is understanding the influence of human and psychological factors on the effectiveness of RRS in managing patient emergencies. Despite being in use for over three decades, several fundamental questions remain unanswered, including the ideal composition of RRS teams, selecting patients for intervention, and developing more accurate outcome predictors.

In 2019, the International Society for Rapid Response Systems (iSRRS) released guidelines on "Quality metrics for the evaluation of Rapid Response Systems," aiming to standardize the assessment of RRS performance across hospitals. This initiative, supported by international healthcare societies, underscores the importance of structured reporting to enhance research quality and address existing limitations.

The financial aspect of RRS, particularly its cost-effectiveness and impact on healthcare budgets, remains a crucial area for further exploration. Understanding these economic factors is essential for justifying the investment in RRS and optimizing resource allocation in healthcare settings.

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