What you should know about hospital Rapid Response Teams

For over a decade, most hospitals have had Rapid Response Teams available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Rapid Response Teams are also called medical emergency teams, and are staffed by health care providers with critical care experience, often including a physician, a nurse, and a respiratory therapist.

Most people are more familiar with the concept of a Code Team, which responds after a doctor or nurse calls a Code Blue, for instance. A Code Team is typically mobilized after a patient experiences cardiac arrest or stops breathing.

Rapid Response Teams, on the other hand, are called before a Code event occurs.

Development of Rapid Response Teams

In December 2004, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement unveiled its “100,000 Lives Campaign.” The campaign focus was a national program aimed at saving 100,000 lives of hospitalized patients nationwide in the United States, over an 18-month.

To meet the goal, the Institute recommended that American hospitals implement as many as possible of six highly-feasible healthcare interventions that have been scientifically proven to be effective.

The Joint Commission, which is the accrediting agency for most hospitals, followed by adding Rapid Response Team development as a mandatory National Patient Safety Goal for 2008. Requirement 16a of the 2008 National Patient Safety Goals stated, “The organization selects a suitable method that enables health care staff members to directly request additional assistance from a specially trained individual(s) when the patient’s condition appears to be worsening.”

The importance of the Joint Commission requirement is that essentially all U.S. hospitals have now developed and implemented some form of Rapid Response Team.

How Rapid Response Teams work

From my experience as a Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer, I believe that Rapid Response Teams are valuable and help promote patient safety.

Any time a patient is admitted to the hospital, the standard of care requires a physician to a “history and physical” of the patient’s health status and the complaints about the patient to the hospital. This provides a baseline that doctors and nurses can use for comparison purposes to see if the patient is staying on a positive track toward healing and eventual discharge.

Quite often, hours before a hospitalized patient takes a terrible turn for the worse—like having a heart attack, stopping breathing, or developing sepsis—he or she will have abnormal vital signs, neurological checks, or other warning signs.

This is the situation that Rapid Response Teams are designed to address. Attentive registered nurses and physicians who notice that the patient’s condition has moved to the wrong direction can call the Rapid Response Team. While the team composition is not standardized among hospitals, calling the Rapid Response Team results in immediate multidisciplinary attention aimed at stopping a patient decline before there is a permanent injury.

What you can do

As a medical negligence attorney, I always recommend that hospitalized patients have a family member or loved wound with them 24/7. No matter how competent and capable healthcare providers are, someone who closely knows a patient will pick up on some things more quickly than someone who does not know the patient well.

This is why some hospitals have adopted policies and procedures that allow patients or family members to call the Rapid Response Team on their own. On the other hand, some hospitals have declined to enact such policies and procedures out of concern that Rapid Response Teams may be activated in inappropriate circumstances.

Regardless of a particular hospitals policies and procedures, patients and family members who are aware that Rapid Response Teams exist can use this information to help promote patient safety.

I have represented patients and their families in many cases where there was a dramatic decline in a hospitalized patient’s condition, but the registered nurse was unable to reach the physician for help. In these situations, family members can ask to speak to a nursing supervisor, charge nurse, or even another doctor and may, if appropriate, request mobilization of the Rapid Response Team, rather than waiting for the attending physician.

It is a good idea to use the exact phrase “Rapid Response Team,” because it is a phrase that nurses and physicians will recognize and will, no doubt, get their attention.

We are here to help

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured as a result of medical malpractice, call Painter Law Firm, in Houston, Texas, at 281-580-8800, for a free consultation about your potential case.


Robert Painter is a medical negligence attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He represents and files medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuits against doctors, surgeons, and hospitals. He was previously a hospital administrator, who was part of the Joint Commission accreditation compliance team. Both from his law practice, and prior experience as a hospital administrator, Robert Painter is well-aware of the patient safety requirements for hospitals.

Robert Painter
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Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.