Unplanned transfers to the intensive care unit: The role of the shock index

A. Scott Keller, Lisa L. Kirkland, Smita Y. Rajasekaran, Stephen Cha, Mohamed Y. Rady, Jeanne M. Huddleston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Background: Unplanned (unexpected) transfers to the intensive care unit (ICU) are typically preceded by physiologic instability. However, trends toward instability may be subtle and not accurately reflected by changes in vital signs. The shock index (SI) (heart rate/systolic blood pressure as an indicator of left ventricular function, reference value of 0.54) may be a simple alternative means to predict clinical deterioration. Objective: To assess the association of the SI with unplanned ICU transfers. Design: Retrospective case-control study. Setting: Academic medical center. Patients: Fifty consecutive general medical patients with unplanned ICU transfers between 2003 and 2004 and 50 matched controls admitted to the same general medical unit between 2002 and 2004. Measurements: Demographic data and vital signs abstracted from chart review. Results: The SI was associated with unplanned ICU transfer at values of 0.85 or greater (P < 0.02; odds ratio, 3.0) and there was a significant difference between the median of worst shock indices of cases and controls (0.87 vs. 0.72; P< 0.005). There was no significant difference in age, race, admission ward, or Charlson Comorbidity Index, but hospital stay for cases was significantly longer (mean [standard deviation, SD], 14.8 [9.7] days vs. 5.7 [6.3] days; P < 0.001). Conclusions: SI is associated with unplanned transfers to the ICU from general medical units at values of 0.85 or greater. Future studies will determine whether SI is more accurate than simple vital signs as an indicator of clinical decline. If so, it may be a useful trigger to activate medical emergency or rapid response teams (RRTs).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)460-465
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of hospital medicine
Issue number8
StatePublished - Oct 2010


  • Critical illness
  • Hospitalized patient
  • Inpatient
  • Intensive care units
  • Morbidity
  • Mortality
  • Patient transfer
  • Shock index
  • Vital signs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Leadership and Management
  • Internal Medicine
  • Fundamentals and skills
  • Health Policy
  • Care Planning
  • Assessment and Diagnosis


Dive into the research topics of 'Unplanned transfers to the intensive care unit: The role of the shock index'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this