We test the hypothesis that for low-acuity surgical patients, postoperative intensive care unit (ICU) admission is associated with lower value of care compared with ward admission.
Overtriaging low-acuity patients to ICU consumes valuable resources and may not confer better patient outcomes. Associations among postoperative overtriage, patient outcomes, costs, and value of care have not been previously reported.
In this longitudinal cohort study, postoperative ICU admissions were classified as overtriaged or appropriately triaged according to machine learning-based patient acuity assessments and requirements for immediate postoperative mechanical ventilation or vasopressor support. The nearest neighbors algorithm identified risk-matched control ward admissions. The primary outcome was value of care, calculated as inverse observed-to-expected mortality ratios divided by total costs.
Acuity assessments had an area under the receiver operating characteristic curve of 0.92 in generating predictions for triage classifications. Of 8592 postoperative ICU admissions, 423 (4.9%) were overtriaged. These were matched with 2155 control ward admissions with similar comorbidities, incidence of emergent surgery, immediate postoperative vital signs, and do not resuscitate order placement and rescindment patterns. Compared with controls, overtraiged admissions did not have a lower incidence of any measured complications. Total costs for admission were $16.4K for overtriage and $15.9K for controls (P=0.03). Value of care was lower for overtriaged admissions [2.9 (2.0–4.0)] compared with controls [24.2 (14.1–34.5), P<0.001].
Low-acuity postoperative patients who were overtriaged to ICUs had increased total costs, no improvements in outcomes, and received low-value care.