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Medical Emergency Teams – 20 years of saving lives at Austin Health and around the world

10 November 2020

A system developed by Austin Health that acts like an ‘ambulance service for patients in hospital’ and has been adopted around the world is celebrating 20 years of saving lives.

Intensive Care specialist, Associate Professor Daryl Jones, said the Medical Emergency Team (MET) provides intensive care expertise to patients in every ward of a hospital to protect those at risk of cardiac arrest and other major adverse events.

The introduction of the MET call system at Austin Health in 2000 has led to a 93% reduction in the number of patients having a cardiac arrest while in hospital, A/Prof Jones said.

The rate of cardiac arrest among inpatients in 1999 was more than three in every thousand, which would be the equivalent of three patients a week having a cardiac arrest while in hospital today.

Instead, this rate is now 0.2 in every thousand or just over 20 cardiac arrests per year, and there have been no preventable cardiac arrests among patients in the general wards at Austin Health during the last two months, he said.

The MET call system works by having specialist Intensive Care staff attend to patients showing early signs of clinical deterioration.

Critical illness is a condition, not a location, which means patients can deteriorate unexpectedly whether they are in Intensive Care or being cared for elsewhere in the hospital.  This means we need a system to rapidly identify and care for them, A/Prof Jones said.

The MET is like an ambulance service for patients who are already in hospital and provides ICU expertise to every patient when they need it.

ICU doctors and nurses respond to a call from staff in any area of the hospital when a patient shows signs of clinical deterioration. We need to get to where the patient is as quickly as possible and intervene to reduce the risk of them suffering a cardiac arrest.

This system is now mandatory for all hospitals around Australia and similar systems have been implemented around the world in the UK, USA, New Zealand and Scandinavian countries, he said.

A/Prof Jones said the Medical Emergency Team concept was introduced after studies found signs in lead up to cardiac arrest were not always acted upon quickly enough.

The aim is to get specialist, expert care to a patient within five minutes of a MET call going out from staff on the wards, he said.

The MET system has seen almost 40,000 at-risk patients at Austin Health alone over the last 20 years with various research studies confirming a reduction in cardiac arrests in hospitals across Australia.

We continue to see an increase in the number of admissions and an increase in the complexity of the patients needing hospital treatment, and we’re continually trying to improve our response so we can provide the best and safest care for our patients.

The Austin Health Medical Emergency Team has seen more than 3700 patients over the last 12 months with one in eight of these patients needing admission to ICU, A/Prof Jones said. 

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