Hospital factors that influence ICU admission decision-making: a qualitative study of eight hospitals

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Intensive care medicine


PURPOSE: Some hospitals in the United States (US) use intensive care 20 times more than others. Since intensive care is lifesaving for some but potentially harmful for others, there is a need to understand factors that influence how intensive care unit (ICU) admission decisions are made.

METHODS: A qualitative analysis of eight US hospitals was conducted with semi-structured, one-on-one interviews supplemented by site visits and clinical observations.

RESULTS: A total of 87 participants (24 nurses, 52 physicians, and 11 other staff) were interviewed, and 40 h were spent observing ICU operations across the eight hospitals. Four hospital-level factors were identified that influenced ICU admission decision-making. First, availability of intermediate care led to reallocation of patients who might otherwise be sent to an ICU. Second, participants stressed the importance of ICU nurse availability as a key modifier of ICU capacity. Patients cared for by experienced general care physicians and nurses were less likely to receive ICU care. Third, smaller or rural hospitals opted for longer emergency department patient-stays over ICU admission to expedite interhospital transfer of critically ill patients. Fourth, lack of clarity in ICU admission policies led clinicians to feel pressured to use ICU care for patients who might otherwise not have received it.

CONCLUSION: Health care systems should evaluate their use of ICU care and establish institutional patterns that ensure ICU admission decisions are patient-centered but also account for resources and constraints particular to each hospital.

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ePub ahead of print

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