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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Association of Vital Signs and Process Outcomes in Emergency Department Patients


Introduction: We sought to determine the association of abnormal vital signs with emergency department (ED) process outcomes in both discharged and admitted patients.

Methods: We performed a retrospective review of five years of operational data at a single site. We identified all visits for patients 18 and older who were discharged home without ancillary services, and separately identified all visits for patients admitted to a floor (ward) bed. We assessed two process outcomes for discharged visits (returns to the ED within 72 hours and returns to the ED within 72 hours resulting in admission) and two process outcomes for admitted patients (transfer to a higher level of care [intermediate care or intensive care] within either six hours or 24 hours of arrival to floor). Last-recorded ED vital signs were obtained for all patients. We report rates of abnormal vital signs in each group, as well as the relative risk of meeting a process outcome for each individual vital sign abnormality.

Results: Patients with tachycardia, tachypnea, or fever more commonly experienced all measured process outcomes compared to patients without these abnormal vitals; admitted hypotensive patients more frequently required transfer to a higher level of care within 24 hours.

Conclusion: In a single facility, patients with abnormal last-recorded ED vital signs experienced more undesirable process outcomes than patients with normal vitals. Vital sign abnormalities may serve as a useful signal in outcome forecasting.

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