Care coordination in intensive care units: communicating across information spaces

Hum Factors. 2010 Apr;52(2):147-61. doi: 10.1177/0018720810369149.


Objective: This study explores the interactions among phases of team coordination, patient-related information, decision-making levels, and role holders in intensive care units (ICUs).

Background: The effects of communication improvement initiatives on adverse patient events or improved outcomes have been difficult to establish. Conceptual inconsistencies and methodological shortcomings suggest insufficient understanding about clinical communication and care coordination.

Method: Data were collected by shadowing a charge nurse, fellow, resident, and nurse in each of eight ICUs and recording each of their conversations during 12 hrs (32 role holders during 350 hrs).

Results: Hierarchical log linear analyses show statistically significant three-way interactions between the patient information, phases of team coordination, and decision levels, chi2(df = 75) = 212, p < .0001; between roles, phases of team coordination, and decision levels, chi2(df = 60) = 109, p < .0001; and between roles, patient information, and decision levels, chi2(df = 60) = 155, p < .0001. Differences among levels of the variables were evaluated with the use of standardized parameter estimates and 95% confidence intervals.

Conclusion: ICU communication and care coordination involve complex decision structures and role interactions across two information spaces. Different role holders mediate vertical and lateral process flows with goals and directions representing an important conceptual transition. However, lateral isolation within decision levels (charge nurses) and information overload (residents) are potential communication and care coordination vulnerabilities. Results are consistent with and extend the findings of previous studies.

Application: The profile of ICU communication and care coordination provides a systemic framework that may inform future interventions and research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Academic Medical Centers
  • Communication
  • Continuity of Patient Care / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units / organization & administration*
  • Patient Care Team / organization & administration*
  • Tennessee