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The Physician Surprise Question in the Emergency Department: prospective cohort study


Objectives This study aims to test the ability of the surprise question (SQ), when asked to emergency physicians (EPs), to predict in-hospital mortality among adults admitted to an emergency room (ER).

Methods This prospective cohort study at an academic medical centre included consecutive patients 18 years or older who received care in the ER and were subsequently admitted to the hospital from 20 April 2018 to 20 October 2018. EPs were required to answer the SQ for all patients who were being admitted to hospital. The primary outcome was in-hospital mortality.

Results The cohort included 725 adults (mean (SD) age, 60 (17) years, 51% men) from 58 128 emergency department (ED) visits. The mortality rates were 20.6% for 30-day all-cause in-hospital mortality and 23.6% for in-hospital mortality. The diagnostic test characteristics of the SQ have a sensitivity of 53.7% and specificity of 87.1%, and a relative risk of 4.02 (95% CI 3.15 to 5.13), p<0.01). The positive and negative predictive values were 57% and 86%, respectively; the positive likelihood ratio was 4.1 and negative likelihood ratio was 0.53; and the accuracy was 79.2%.

Conclusions We found that asking the SQ to EPs may be a useful tool to identify patients in the ED with a high risk of in-hospital mortality.

  • Advance Care Planning
  • End of life care
  • Hospice care
  • Prognosis
  • Quality of life
  • Clinical decisions

Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article.

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