Twenty-four-Hour Intensivist Staffing in Teaching Hospitals Tensions Between Safety Today and Safety Tomorrow

Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
Chest (Impact Factor: 7.48). 05/2012; 141(5):1315-20. DOI: 10.1378/chest.11-1459
Source: PubMed


There is an inherent tension between the training needs of inexperienced clinicians and the safety of the patients for whom they are responsible. Our society has accepted this tension as a necessary trade-off to maintain a competent workforce of physicians year after year. However, recent trends in medical education have diminished resident autonomy in favor of the safety of current patients. One dramatic example is the rapid increase in the number of academic ICUs that provide coverage by attending physicians at all hours. The potential benefits of this staffing model have strong face validity: improved quality and efficiency from the constant involvement of experienced intensivists, increased family and staff satisfaction from the immediate availability of attending physicians, and reduced burn-out among intensivists from reduced on-call responsibilities. Thus, many hospitals have moved toward 24-h coverage by attending intensivist physicians without evidence that these benefits actually accrue and perhaps without full consideration of possible unintended consequences. In this article, we discuss the potential benefits and risks of nocturnal intensivist staffing, considering the needs of current and future patients. Furthermore, we suggest that there remains sufficient uncertainty about these benefits and risks that it is both necessary and ethical to study the effects in earnest.

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Available from: Meeta Kerlin, Mar 07, 2014

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    ABSTRACT: Background: Increasing numbers of intensive care units (ICUs) are adopting the practice of nighttime intensivist staffing despite the lack of experimental evidence of its effectiveness. Methods: We conducted a 1-year randomized trial in an academic medical ICU of the effects of nighttime staffing with in-hospital intensivists (intervention) as compared with nighttime coverage by daytime intensivists who were available for consultation by telephone (control). We randomly assigned blocks of 7 consecutive nights to the intervention or the control strategy. The primary outcome was patients' length of stay in the ICU. Secondary outcomes were patients' length of stay in the hospital, ICU and in-hospital mortality, discharge disposition, and rates of readmission to the ICU. For length-of-stay outcomes, we performed time-to-event analyses, with data censored at the time of a patient's death or transfer to another ICU. Results: A total of 1598 patients were included in the analyses. The median Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation (APACHE) III score (in which scores range from 0 to 299, with higher scores indicating more severe illness) was 67 (interquartile range, 47 to 91), the median length of stay in the ICU was 52.7 hours (interquartile range, 29.0 to 113.4), and mortality in the ICU was 18%. Patients who were admitted on intervention days were exposed to nighttime intensivists on more nights than were patients admitted on control days (median, 100% of nights [interquartile range, 67 to 100] vs. median, 0% [interquartile range, 0 to 33]; P<0.001). Nonetheless, intensivist staffing on the night of admission did not have a significant effect on the length of stay in the ICU (rate ratio for the time to ICU discharge, 0.98; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.88 to 1.09; P=0.72), ICU mortality (relative risk, 1.07; 95% CI, 0.90 to 1.28), or any other end point. Analyses restricted to patients who were admitted at night showed similar results, as did sensitivity analyses that used different definitions of exposure and outcome. Conclusions: In an academic medical ICU in the United States, nighttime in-hospital intensivist staffing did not improve patient outcomes. (Funded by University of Pennsylvania Health System and others; number, NCT01434823.).
    Full-text · Article · May 2013 · New England Journal of Medicine

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