Triage of Patients Consulted for ICU Admission During Times of ICU-Bed Shortage

Jose Orsini, Christa Blaak, Angela Yeh, Xavier Fonseca, Tanya Helm, Ashvin Butala, Joaquin Morante

Abstract


Background: The demand for specialized medical services such as critical care often exceeds availability, thus rationing of intensive care unit (ICU) beds commonly leads to difficult triage decisions. Many factors can play a role in the decision to admit a patient to the ICU, including severity of illness and the need for specific treatments limited to these units. Although triage decisions would be based solely on patient and institutional level factors, it is likely that intensivists make different decisions when there are fewer ICU beds available. The objective of this study is to evaluate the characteristics of patients referred for ICU admission during times of limited beds availability.

Methods: A single center, prospective, observational study was conducted among consecutive patients in whom an evaluation for ICU admission was requested during times of ICU overcrowding, which comprised the months of April and May 2014.

Results: A total of 95 patients were evaluated for possible ICU admission during the study period. Their mean APACHE-II score was 16.8 (median 16, range 3 - 36). Sixty-four patients (67.4%) were accepted to ICU, 18 patients (18.9%) were triaged to SDU, and 13 patients (13.7%) were admitted to hospital wards. ICU had no beds available 24 times (39.3%) during the study period, and in 39 opportunities (63.9%) only one bed was available. Twenty-four patients (25.3%) were evaluated when there were no available beds, and eight of those patients (33%) were admitted to ICU. A total of 17 patients (17.9%) died in the hospital, and 15 (23.4%) expired in ICU.

Conclusion: ICU beds are a scarce resource for which demand periodically exceeds supply, raising concerns about mechanisms for resource allocation during times of limited beds availability. At our institution, triage decisions were not related to the number of available beds in ICU, age, or gender. A linear correlation was observed between severity of illness, expressed by APACHE-II scores, and the likelihood of being admitted to ICU. Alternative locations outside the ICU in which care for critically ill patients could be delivered should be considered during times of extreme ICU-bed shortage.




J Clin Med Res. 2014;6(6):463-468
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.14740/jocmr1939w


Keywords


Triage; Intensive care unit; Step-down unit; Emergency department; Acute physiology and chronic health evaluation; ICU beds

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