Understanding how medications contribute to clinical deterioration and are used in rapid response systems: A comprehensive scoping review



      In hospitals, rapid response systems (RRSs) identify patients who deteriorate and provide critical care at their bedsides to stabilise and escalate care. Medications, including oral and parenteral pharmaceutical preparations, are the most common intervention for hospitalised patients and the most common cause of harm. This connection between clinical deterioration and medication safety is poorly understood.


      To inform improvements in prevention and management of clinical deterioration, this review aimed to examine how medications contributed to clinical deterioration and how medications were used in RRSs.

      Review methods

      A scoping review was undertaken of medication data reported in studies of clinical deterioration or RRSs in diverse hospital settings between 2005 and 2017. Bibliographic database searches used permutations of “rapid response system,” “medical emergency team,” and keyword searching with medication-related terms. Independent selection, quality assessment, and data extraction informed mapping against four medication themes: causes of deterioration, predictors of deterioration, RRS use, and management.


      Thirty articles were reviewed. Quality was low: limited by small samples, observational, single-centre designs and few primary medication-related outcomes. Adverse drug reactions and potentially preventable medication errors, involving sedatives, analgesics, and cardiovascular agents, contributed to clinical deterioration. While sparsely reported, outcomes included death and escalation of care. In children, administration of antibiotics or nebulised medications appeared to predict subsequent deterioration. Cardiovascular medications, sedatives, and analgesics commonly were used to manage deterioration but further detail was lacking. Despite reported potential for patient harm, evaluation of medication management systems was limited.


      Medications contributed to potentially preventable clinical deterioration, with considerable harm, and were common interventions for its management. When assessing deteriorating patients or caring for patients who require escalation to critical care, clinicians should consider medication errors and adverse reactions. Studies with more specific medication-related, patient-centred end points could reduce medication-related deterioration and refine RRS medication use and management.


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