Objective: To describe the characteristics of children admitted to intensive care in 1982, 1995, and 2005-2006, and their long-term outcome.
Setting: Pediatric intensive care unit in a university-affiliated children's hospital.
Design/methods: Information for 2005-2006 admissions was obtained from pediatric intensive care unit database, and long-term outcome was ascertained through telephone interviews. Results were compared to previous cohorts from 1982 and 1995.
Results: A total of 4010 children were admitted on 5250 occasions. Readmissions increased from 11% for 1982 to 31% in 2005 to 2006 (p < .001). In 2005-2006, fewer children were admitted after accidents (p < .001), or with croup (p < .001), or epiglottitis (p = .01), and 8% were treated with noninvasive ventilation compared to none in 1982 (p < .0001). Among children aged > or =1 month, pediatric intensive care unit length of stay remained constant. The risk of death predicted by the Pediatric Index of Mortality (PIM) remained constant (approximately 6%) between 1995 and 2005-2006.The proportion that died in the pediatric intensive care unit fell from 11.0% in 1982 to 4.8% in 2005-2006 (p < .001). Among children aged >/=1 month, proportion admitted with a preexisting moderate or severe disability was similar: 12.0% in 1982 and 14.6% in 2005-2006 (p = .11), but the proportion with a moderate or severe disability at follow-up increased from 8.4% in 1982 to 17.9% in 2005-2006 (p < .001). The proportion of children aged > or =1 month who either died in the pediatric intensive care unit or survived with disability did not improve: it was 19.4% in 1982 and 22.7% in 2005-2006.
Conclusion: Over the last three decades, the length of stay in the pediatric intensive care unit and the severity of illness have not changed, but there has been a substantial reduction in pediatric intensive care unit mortality. However, the proportion of survivors with moderate or severe disability increased significantly. Some children who would have been allowed to die in 1982 and 1995 were kept alive in 2005-2006, but survived with disability. This trend has important implications for our patients and their families, and for the community as a whole.