Objective: To document the characteristics and incidence of serious abnormalities in patients prior to admission to intensive care units.
Design and setting: Prospective follow-up study of all patients admitted to intensive care in three acute-care hospitals.
Patients: The study population totalled 551 patients admitted to intensive care: 90 from the general ward, 239 from operating rooms (OR) and 222 from the Emergency Department (ED).
Measurements and results: Patients from the general wards had greater severity of illness (APACHE II median 21) than those from the OR (15) or ED (19). A greater percentage of patients from the general wards (47.6%) died than from OR (19.3%) and ED (31.5%). Patients from the general wards had a greater number of serious antecedents before admission to intensive care 43 (72%) than those from OR 150 (64.4%) or ED 126 (61.8%). Of the 551 patients 62 had antecedents during the period 8-48 h before admission to intensive care, and 53 had antecedents both within 8 and 48 h before their admission. The most common antecedents during the 8 h before admission were hypotension (n=199), tachycardia (n=73), tachypnoea (n=64), and sudden change in level of consciousness (n=42). Concern was expressed in the clinical notes by attending staff in 70% of patients admitted from the general wards.
Conclusions: In over 60% of patients admitted to intensive care potentially life-threatening abnormalities were documented during the 8 h before their admission. This may represent a patient population who could benefit from improved resuscitation and care at an earlier stage.