Healthcare News & Insights

ICU isn’t always best bet for patients

Figuring out ways to cut healthcare costs is crucial for hospitals, since pressure to reduce expenses has been increasing from both payors and the feds. Because of this scrutiny, hospitals must be careful that the care patients receive is appropriate for their health conditions. 

One study shows this doesn’t always happen when patients are admitted to the intensive care unit.

More patients than necessary

The ICU is designed to provide care for patients with critical illnesses or life-threatening medical problems. But according to research from UCLA and the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute, not all patients who receive treatment in the ICU should be there in the first place.

As written in a news release published on ScienceDaily, researchers looked at over 800 ICU admissions at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. They discovered that over half the patients in the ICU would’ve received similar or better care in a less expensive unit of the hospital.

Out of the patients reviewed, 23% percent needed close monitoring, but not on the level of ICU care. Close to 21% had critical illnesses, but they weren’t likely to recover because they were severely ill, with multiple underlying health issues. So the ICU wasn’t suited for their conditions either.

Another 8% of patients would’ve had the same outcomes whether they were in the ICU or not – including death.

Additionally, when looking at the total number of days these patients spent in the ICU, almost 65% of them were focused on care that would be considered “discretionary monitoring,” had little chance of being beneficial to the patient’s critical illness, or could’ve been provided in a non-ICU setting.

Avoid overuse

Researchers acknowledged that, for some facilities, the ICU is the only option for patients with certain illnesses. So even if another type of care would be more appropriate, doctors can’t avoid admitting patients to the ICU.

But for facilities with multiple departments, units and campuses, providers must carefully use their discretion to decide which patients would benefit the most from ICU care – and which would receive more appropriate care in an alternate setting.

It’s important to make sure your facility isn’t overusing its ICU when equivalent care could be delivered in other departments. Not only is an ICU stay significantly more expensive than a regular hospital visit, but admitting patients to the ICU who won’t benefit from the care also stretches hospital resources for critical patients to their limit, which can compromise their treatment and recovery.

Bottom line: ICU care is only appropriate for patients who would benefit from the treatment provided in the unit. It shouldn’t be used as a catch-all solution for patients with severe illnesses.

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