Background: During the last several years, many governmental and nongovernmental organizations have championed the application of the principles of quality improvement to the practice of medicine, particularly in the area of critical care.
Objective: To review the breadth of approaches to quality improvement in the intensive care unit, including measures such as mortality and length of stay, and the use of protocols, bundles, and the role of large, multiple-hospital collaboratives.
Results: Several agencies have participated in the application of the quality movement to medicine, culminating in the development of standards such as the intensive care unit core measures of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. Although "zero defects" may not be possible in all measurable variables of quality in the intensive care unit, several measures, such as catheter-related bloodstream infections, can be significantly reduced through the implementation of improved processes of care, such as care bundles. Large, multiple-center, quality improvement collaboratives, such as the Michigan Keystone Intensive Care Unit Project, may be particularly effective in improving the quality of care by creating a "bandwagon effect" within a geographic region.
Conclusion: The quality revolution is having a significant effect in the critical care unit and is likely to be facilitated by the transition to the electronic medical record.