Quality of interhospital transport of critically ill patients: a prospective audit

Crit Care. 2005 Aug;9(4):R446-51. doi: 10.1186/cc3749. Epub 2005 Jul 1.


Introduction: The aim of transferring a critically ill patient to the intensive care unit (ICU) of a tertiary referral centre is to improve prognosis. The transport itself must be as safe as possible and should not pose additional risks. We performed a prospective audit of the quality of interhospital transports to our university hospital-based medical ICU.

Methods: Transfers were undertaken using standard ambulances. On departure and immediately after arrival, the following data were collected: blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature, oxygen saturation, arterial blood gas analysis, serum lactic acid, plasma haemoglobin concentration, blood glucose, mechanical ventilation settings, use of vasopressor/inotropic drugs, and presence of venous and arterial catheters. Ambulance personnel completed forms describing haemodynamic and ventilatory data during transport. Data were collected by our research nurse and analyzed.

Results: A total of 100 consecutive transfers of ICU patients over a 14-month period were evaluated. Sixty-five per cent of patients were mechanically ventilated; 38% were on vasoactive drugs. Thirty-seven per cent exhibited an increased number of vital variables beyond predefined thresholds after transport compared with before transport; 34% had an equal number; and 29% had a lower number of vital variables beyond thresholds after transport. The distance of transport did not correlate with the condition on arrival. Six patients died within 24 hours after arrival; vital variables in these patients were not significantly different from those in patients who survived the first 24 hours. ICU mortality was 27%. Adverse events occurred in 34% of transfers; in 50% of these transports, pretransport recommendations given by the intensivist of our ICU were ignored. Approximately 30% of events may be attributed to technical problems.

Conclusion: On aggregate, the quality of transport in our catchment area carried out using standard ambulances appeared to be satisfactory. However, examination of the data in greater detail revealed a number of preventable events. Further improvement must be achieved by better communication between referring and receiving hospitals, and by strict adherence to checklists and to published protocols. Patients transported between ICUs are still critically ill and should be treated as such.

MeSH terms

  • Ambulances / statistics & numerical data
  • Critical Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units / statistics & numerical data
  • Netherlands
  • Patient Transfer / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quality of Health Care / statistics & numerical data*