Heather McKay, Dr Imogen Mitchell, Nicole Slater, discuss Compass.

Heather McKay, Dr Imogen Mitchell and Nicole Slater discuss Compass. Photo: G

A CHART designed by Canberra Hospital to let staff know when a patient's health is getting worse has been copied nationally and globally.

The coloured chart sets out acceptable boundaries for respiration, blood pressure, temperature and heart rate and indicates that if a patient falls into different zones specific actions must be taken.

There is also a points system, the modified early warning score, that triggers a visit from a senior doctor.

The system is being used as far away as Ireland and Oman.

The director of Canberra Hospital's Intensive Care Unit (ICU), Imogen Mitchell, said about 15 per cent of patients in ICU died. It was important to try to intervene before a transfer to intensive care was necessary.

''The colours represent the degree of physiological abnormality - purple is potentially serious and so if a patient falls into this category, the ward staff should be calling for a medical emergency team,'' Dr Mitchell said.

Former program co-ordinator Heather McKay travelled to Ireland last year to pick up an award for the program, called Compass.

''We developed it here in the ACT and we never thought it would be picked up anywhere else,'' Ms McKay said. ''There was obviously a need for it.''

She said the importance of observation charts had fallen. ''Nurses tended to look at observations as something they did at 10am and 2pm but they didn't understand why.''

That gap had now been fixed, Dr Mitchell said.

''You learn physiology and you learn being on the wards but there is rarely the integration of the two when in fact they are intimately related,'' she said.

Dr Mitchell said an early study of the impact of the chart found a ''significant reduction in patient mortality. It does save lives and it gets the right care to the patient at the right time.''