Skip to main content

Colour will identify critical patients

It is difficult for hosptials to spot patients who suddenly become critically ill during hospitalisation. But instead of a beeping sound, colour will be used to give a quick overview of the patient's condition.

The colours green, yellow and orange will make it easier for hospital staff to spot acute patients who are at risk of developing unexpected life-threatening complications.

Instead of a nurse having to navigate through different measurements of blood pressure, pulse and oxygen saturation, a new IT system assembles all the vital parameters. The system then assigns a colour to the patient's overall condition. When the nurse sees the colour's development over time, the at-risk patients can be spotted quickly.

- A professor in emergency medicine asked if we could help to solve a problem. She found that it was difficult to spot in advance patients who suddenly become critically ill during hospitalisation, says Research Assistant Thomas Schmidt from the Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller Institute at SDU.

No more beeps
When patients are admitted to hospital in an emergency, they are divided into the categories red, orange, yellow, green and blue, depending on how critical their condition is.

Patients in the red category are taken directly to the hospital's trauma room, and patients from the orange and yellow categories are sent to treatment rooms where they are often connected to a patient monitor that continuously monitors vital parameters such as blood pressure, pulse and heartbeat.

- The problem is that the different measurements end up as an incomprehensible mess of beeping noises that are difficult for staff to navigate through. The information ends up becoming background noise, and it is difficult to convert the noise into a complete picture of the patient's condition, explains Thomas Schmidt.

Colours give a quick overview
Thomas Schmidt has spent many hours in different hospital departments to get an oversight of how nurses work, and he quickly discovered that the last thing they need is more beeping sounds.

- That's why I have developed a computer system that gathers information from the different vital measurements, processes the information and then boils it down to a colour. By following the development of the colour on a screen, the nurses can quickly form an overview of the patient's condition, says Thomas Schmidt and continues:

- We have tested the system on 18 nurses, and they have all been pleased with the immediate overview the colours give. Colours are intuitively quickly understandable when used as a tool for supporting their professional assessment of the patient's condition, explains Thomas Schmidt.

Significant support in a busy working day
By looking at the development of the colours over a period of time, nurses can establish a more precise picture of how the patient is progressing. Based on the colour's development, staff can decode in advance whether the patient is approaching a critical condition. A consultant at the Emergency Department of Odense University Hospital sees the system as a significant support during a busy working day.

- We have succeeded in developing an overview system that functions intuitively and in real time. The finished version will be a significant support in monitoring patients during busy clinical days at the emergency department, says Annmarie Touborg Lassen, consultant at the Department of Acute Medicine at OUH and professor in Emergency Medicine at the Clinical Department at SDU.