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Proactive palliative care in the medical intensive care unit: Effects on length of stay for selected high-risk patients

Norton, Sally A. PhD, RN; Hogan, Laura A. MS, RN, ACHPN; Holloway, Robert G. MD, MPH; Temkin-Greener, Helena PhD, MPH; Buckley, Marcia J. MS, RN, BC-PCM; Quill, Timothy E. MD

doi: 10.1097/01.CCM.0000266533.06543.0C
Clinical Investigations

Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine the effect of proactive palliative care consultation on length of stay for high-risk patients in the medical intensive care unit (MICU).

Design: A prospective pre/post nonequivalent control group design was used for this performance improvement study.

Setting: Seventeen-bed adult MICU.

Patients: Of admissions to the MICU, 191 patients were identified as having a serious illness and at high risk of dying: 65 patients in the usual care phase and 126 patients in the proactive palliative care phase. To be included in the sample, a patient had to meet one of the following criteria: a) intensive care admission following a current hospital stay of ≥10 days; b) age >80 yrs in the presence of two or more life-threatening comorbidities (e.g., end-stage renal disease, severe congestive heart failure); c) diagnosis of an active stage IV malignancy; d) status post cardiac arrest; or e) diagnosis of an intracerebral hemorrhage requiring mechanical ventilation.

Interventions: Palliative care consultations.

Measurements and Main Results: Primary measures were patient lengths of stay a) for the entire hospitalization; b) in the MICU; and c) from MICU admission to hospital discharge. Secondary measures included mortality rates and discharge disposition. There were no significant differences between the usual care and proactive palliative care intervention groups in respect to age, gender, race, screening criteria, discharge disposition, or mortality. Patients in the proactive palliative care group had significantly shorter lengths of stay in the MICU (8.96 vs. 16.28 days, p = .0001). There were no differences between the two groups on total length of stay in the hospital or length of stay from MICU admission to hospital discharge.

Conclusions: Proactive palliative care consultation was associated with a significantly shorter MICU length of stay in this high-risk group without any significant differences in mortality rates or discharge disposition.

From the School of Nursing (SN), Center for Ethics, Humanities, and Palliative Care (LH, RH, MB, TQ), and the Departments of Community and Preventive Medicine (RH, HTG) and Neurology (RH), University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, NY.

Supported, in part, by the Fraser-Parker Foundation, Atlanta, GA.

The authors have not disclosed any potential conflicts of interest.

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© 2007 by the Society of Critical Care Medicine and Lippincott Williams & Wilkins