Purpose of review: The intensive care unit (ICU) provides continuous surveillance and specialized care to acutely ill patients. The decisions on patient admission and discharge should be based on common clinical criteria in order to guarantee equity.
Recent findings: The survival benefit of early admission to intensive care has been demonstrated recently. Sometimes, the number of potential patients may exceed the available beds making triage of the patients necessary. The prioritization model based on the benefit that the patient can have from the admission is the most used. In the case of the outbreak peak of pandemic A H1N1 flu, a triage plan using Sequential Organ Failure Assessment score combined with inclusion and exclusion criteria to complement clinical judgment has been recommended. Nevertheless, studies have shown that this triage could lead to withdrawal of life support in patients who survive. Triage implies refusal of some patients, and refusal rates vary greatly even across the same country. Policies for discharge from intensive care show wide variability influenced by the availability of step-down facilities.
Summary: The decisions to admit and discharge patients depend on patient, structure and physician-related variables. Early ICU admission of the critically ill patient is beneficial. Future analysis should also investigate economic parameters.