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OBJECTIVE: To provide an overview and critical appraisal of early warning scores for adult hospital patients. DESIGN: Systematic review. DATA SOURCES: Medline, CINAHL, PsycInfo, and Embase until June 2019. ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA FOR STUDY SELECTION: Studies describing the development or external validation of an early warning score for adult hospital inpatients. RESULTS: 13 171 references were screened and 95 articles were included in the review. 11 studies were development only, 23 were development and external validation, and 61 were external validation only. Most early warning scores were developed for use in the United States (n=13/34, 38%) and the United Kingdom (n=10/34, 29%). Death was the most frequent prediction outcome for development studies (n=10/23, 44%) and validation studies (n=66/84, 79%), with different time horizons (the most frequent was 24 hours). The most common predictors were respiratory rate (n=30/34, 88%), heart rate (n=28/34, 83%), oxygen saturation, temperature, and systolic blood pressure (all n=24/34, 71%). Age (n=13/34, 38%) and sex (n=3/34, 9%) were less frequently included. Key details of the analysis populations were often not reported in development studies (n=12/29, 41%) or validation studies (n=33/84, 39%). Small sample sizes and insufficient numbers of event patients were common in model development and external validation studies. Missing data were often discarded, with just one study using multiple imputation. Only nine of the early warning scores that were developed were presented in sufficient detail to allow individualised risk prediction. Internal validation was carried out in 19 studies, but recommended approaches such as bootstrapping or cross validation were rarely used (n=4/19, 22%). Model performance was frequently assessed using discrimination (development n=18/22, 82%; validation n=69/84, 82%), while calibration was seldom assessed (validation n=13/84, 15%). All included studies were rated at high risk of bias. CONCLUSIONS: Early warning scores are widely used prediction models that are often mandated in daily clinical practice to identify early clinical deterioration in hospital patients. However, many early warning scores in clinical use were found to have methodological weaknesses. Early warning scores might not perform as well as expected and therefore they could have a detrimental effect on patient care. Future work should focus on following recommended approaches for developing and evaluating early warning scores, and investigating the impact and safety of using these scores in clinical practice. SYSTEMATIC REVIEW REGISTRATION: PROSPERO CRD42017053324.

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Adult, Aged, Blood Pressure, Clinical Deterioration, Critical Care, Death, Early Warning Score, Female, Heart Arrest, Heart Rate, Hospitals, Humans, Inpatients, Male, Middle Aged, Oxyhemoglobins, Prognosis, Respiratory Rate, Temperature, United Kingdom, United States