Introduction: When the number of patients who require intensive care is greater than the number of beds available, intensive care unit (ICU) entry flow is obstructed. This phenomenon has been associated with higher mortality rates in patients that are not admitted despite their need, and in patients that are admitted but are waiting for a bed. The purpose of this study is to evaluate if a delay in ICU admission affects mortality for critically ill patients.
Methods: A prospective cohort of adult patients admitted to the ICU of our institution between January and December 2005 were analyzed. Patients for whom a bed was available were immediately admitted; when no bed was available, patients waited for ICU admission. ICU admission was classified as either delayed or immediate. Confounding variables examined were: age, sex, originating hospital ward, ICU diagnosis, co-morbidity, Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation (APACHE) II score, therapeutic intervention, and Sequential Organ Failure Assessment (SOFA) score. All patients were followed until hospital discharge.
Results: A total of 401 patients were evaluated; 125 (31.2%) patients were immediately admitted and 276 (68.8%) patients had delayed admission. There was a significant increase in ICU mortality rates with a delay in ICU admission (P = 0.002). The fraction of mortality risk attributable to ICU delay was 30% (95% confidence interval (CI): 11.2% to 44.8%). Each hour of waiting was independently associated with a 1.5% increased risk of ICU death (hazard ratio (HR): 1.015; 95% CI 1.006 to 1.023; P = 0.001).
Conclusions: There is a significant association between time to admission and survival rates. Early admission to the ICU is more likely to produce positive outcomes.