Who should care for intensive care unit patients?

Crit Care Med. 2007 Feb;35(2 Suppl):S18-23. doi: 10.1097/01.CCM.0000252907.47050.FE.


The question of who should direct the care of critically ill patients is both multifaceted and timely. Currently, only about 30% of critical care units in the United States are staffed by dedicated intensivists. This number is likely to increase as groups such as Leapfrog financially reward hospitals that have dedicated intensivists around the clock. The problem, however, is that the supply of intensivists by training is not projected to increase, whereas the demand for health care, by all accounts, will significantly increase in the near future. There is an increasing body of literature suggesting not only morbidity and mortality benefits but decreased length of stay and profound cost savings when a team directed by critical care physicians cares for patients in the intensive care unit. Despite this, many have argued that a consultant-based unit (so called open unit) is less alienating to a patient's primary care physician or surgeon and promotes continuity of care. In addition, although much of the literature has suggested purported benefit derived from a dedicated intensivist staffing model, little has been published regarding optimal intensivist/patient ratios. If dedicated critical care teams decrease complications in the intensive care unit, one may logically reason that as the intensivist/patient ratio decreases, morbidity or mortality, or both, might increase. This, however, has not yet been shown. This article will address many of these issues, discuss the history of critical care medicine in the United States, and review the pertinent literature. With the projected shortage of critical care-trained physicians and an increasingly aging population, it is imperative that health professionals evaluate this issue sooner rather than later.

MeSH terms

  • Health Workforce
  • Hospital Mortality
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units / economics
  • Intensive Care Units / organization & administration*
  • Length of Stay
  • Medicine / organization & administration*
  • Personnel Staffing and Scheduling
  • Quality of Health Care / economics
  • Quality of Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Specialization*