A before and after trial of the effect of a high-dependency unit on post-operative morbidity and mortality

Crit Care Resusc. 2005 Mar;7(1):16-21.


Objective: It has been suggested that the availability of a high-dependency unit (HDU), to facilitate graded admission to, and discharge from, an intensive care unit (ICU), might decrease post-operative morbidity. We wished to determine whether the addition of a 4-bed HDU to a tertiary 17-bed ICU facility at a University-affiliated hospital would decrease post-operative morbidity and mortality.

Patients and methods: A prospective controlled before-and-after trial was performed with the opening of a 4-bed HDU. Consecutive patients admitted to hospital for major surgery during a 4-month control (pre-HDU) phase and during a 4-month intervention (HDU) phase were studied for the incidence of serious adverse events (SAEs), mortality after major surgery and mean duration of hospital stay.

Results: There were 1319 operations performed in 1125 patients during the pre-HDU period and 1369 operations performed in 1127 patients during the HDU period. During the HDU period there was an excess in unscheduled surgery cases (674 during HDU vs. 531 during the pre-HDU period; p < 0.0001). In the pre-HDU period, there were 414 SAEs in 190 patients compared with 456 SAEs in 209 patients during the HDU period (NS). There were no significant changes in any of the individual SAEs measured except for the incidence of post-operative acute pulmonary edema, which increased from 19 cases to 46 during the HDU period (p = 0.028). This increase was associated with a greater number of patients requiring re-intubation (52 vs. 75 cases; p = 0.044). The introduction of an HDU had no effect on mortality (80 deaths vs. 76; NS) and failed to reduce mean hospital length of stay (21.8 vs. 24 days; NS).

Conclusions: The introduction of a 4-bed HDU in a teaching hospital was associated with a marked increase in unscheduled surgery and failed to reduce the incidence of post-operative SAEs, post-operative mortality, and mean duration of hospital stay.