Objective: To determine the profile and role of the physiotherapist in European intensive care units (ICUs).
Design: Postal questionnaire.
Setting: 460 ICUs in 17 western European countries.
Participants: Heads of intensive care physiotherapy.
Results: One hundred and two completed questionnaires were analyzed, representing 22% of the questionnaires sent: 48% were from university hospitals, 45% of the hospitals had more than 700 beds, and 50% had more than 24 ICU beds. 38% of the hospitals had more than 30 physiotherapists working in the hospital, but 25% had no exclusive ICU physiotherapist. 34% had a physiotherapist available during the night, and 85% during the weekend. In almost 100% of ICUs the physiotherapist performed respiratory therapy, mobilization, and positioning. The physiotherapist played an active role in the adjustment of mechanical ventilation in 12% of the respondent's units, in weaning from mechanical ventilation in 22% of units, in extubation in 25%, and in the implementation of non-invasive mechanical ventilation (NIV) in 46%. Among the physiotherapists, there were equivalent numbers of university and non-university graduates. Differences in the role of the physiotherapist were apparent between countries. For example, 80% of respondents from the United Kingdom stated that physiotherapists were available during the night, while in Germany and Sweden physiotherapists were available at night in none of the respondent's units.
Conclusions: Even though the response rate was limited, variations in the role and profile of the ICU physiotherapist are apparent across Europe. The involvement of physiotherapists in more specialized techniques is also a function of the number of physiotherapists working exclusively in an ICU.