Intensive care offers a standard of monitoring, intervention, and organ support that cannot be readily delivered in a general ward. Its expansion in the past few decades, including the creation of emergency and outreach teams, emphasises that intensive care has an increasingly prominent role within the hospital. Although outcomes are clearly improving, intensive care remains a nascent specialty in which we are still learning how to harness a powerful ability to manipulate physiology, biochemistry, and immunology to achieve best outcomes for the patient. The results of many multicentre studies have not lent support to, or have even confounded, expectations, drawing attention to several issues related to patient heterogeneity, trial design, and elucidation of underlying pathophysiological processes. However, these results have generated constructive introspection and reappraisal of treatments and management strategies that have benefited the patient. In addition to the medical, financial, and logistical challenges in the future, exciting opportunities will arise as new developments in diagnostic tests, therapeutic interventions, and technology are used to exploit an increasing awareness of how critical illness should be managed.
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