Background and objective: With the development of noninvasive ventilation (NIV), patients with increasingly complex needs have been admitted to respiratory medicine departments. For this reason, such departments in Spain and throughout Europe have been adding specialized respiratory intermediate care units (RICUs) for monitoring and treating patients with severe respiratory diseases. The aim of the present study was to describe the activity of such a RICU. The description may be of use in facilitating the setting up of RICUs in other hospitals of the Spanish National Health Service.
Methods: A systematic record of activity carried out in the RICU of the Hospital Universitario Son Dureta between January and December 2006 was kept prospectively.
Results: Of 206 patients with a mean (SD) age of 65 (14) years admitted to the unit, 67% came from the emergency department, 14% from the respiratory medicine department, and 12% from the intensive care unit (ICU). The most common admission diagnoses were exacerbated chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (n=97, 47.1%), pneumonia (n=39, 18.9%), heart failure (n=17, 8.2%), and pulmonary vascular diseases (n=18, 8.7%). One hundred twenty-one patients (59%) required NIV. Mean length of stay in the RICU was 5 (5) days. Patients were discharged to the conventional respiratory ward in 79.1% of the cases; 7.8% required subsequent admission to the ICU, and 9.7% died. Of the patients with exacerbated COPD (mean age, 66.5  years; mean length of stay, 4.6 [4.5] days), 67% required NIV, 7.2% required subsequent admission to the ICU, and 8.2% died.
Conclusions: The creation of a RICU by a respiratory medicine department is viable in Spain. Such units make it possible to treat a large number of patients with a low rate of therapeutic failures. Exacerbated COPD was the most common diagnosis on admission to our RICU, and the need for NIV the most common criterion for admission.