THURSDAY, Sept. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Having a rapid response team manage hospital patients whose condition is rapidly deteriorating sharply reduced the rate of cardiac arrests at a U.S. hospital, a new study found.

Researchers looked at a rapid response team, known as the eTeam, created at the VA Medical Center in Palo Alto, Calif., in 2005. The team includes physicians specializing in intensive care, anesthesiologists, nurses and other health care professionals with special training in evaluating and treating patients in potentially unstable condition -- for instance, those experiencing a sudden decrease in heart rate or breathing, a drop in blood pressure, or a change in neurological condition.

During its first two years, the eTeam was called into action 378 times and the rate of cardiac arrests decreased 57 percent, from an average of 10.1 to 4.36 cardiac arrests per 1,000 patients. The decrease was even larger (64 percent) among patients undergoing surgery.

The study appears in the September issue of the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia.

"Our results suggest that further reductions in morbidity can be realized by expansion of rapid response systems throughout the Veterans Affairs network," wrote Dr. Geoffrey K. Lighthall of the VA Medical Center in Palo Alto in a journal news release.

The hospital's overall death rate decreased 17 percent during that time, but because of an overall trend toward a declining death rate, it's impossible to say how much of the reduction was due to the rapid response team, the researchers said.

"Rapid response teams are a new approach to quickly intervening when a patient in the hospital is deteriorating. The goal is to interrupt the downward spiral that typically precedes cardiopulmonary arrest (code blue)," Dr. Steven L. Shafer of Columbia University, the journal's editor in chief, said in the news release.

More information

The American Heart Association has more about cardiac arrest.