Continuity of care in intensive care units: a cluster-randomized trial of intensivist staffing

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2011 Oct 1;184(7):803-8. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201103-0555OC.


Rationale: Little is known about the consequences of intensivists’ work schedules, or intensivist continuity of care.

Objectives: To assess the impact of weekend respite for intensivists, with consequent reduction in continuity of care, on them and their patients.

Methods: In five medical intensive care units (ICUs) in four academic hospitals we performed a prospective, cluster-randomized, alternating trial of two intensivist staffing schedules. Daily coverage by a single intensivist in half-month rotations (continuous schedule) was compared with weekday coverage by a single intensivist, with weekend cross-coverage by colleagues (interrupted schedule). We studied consecutive patients admitted to study units, and the intensivists working in four of the participating units.

Measurements and main results: The primary patient outcome was ICU length of stay (LOS);we also assessed hospital LOS and mortality rates. The primary intensivist outcome was physician burnout. Analysis was by multivariable regression. A total of 45 intensivists and 1,900 patients participated in the study. Continuity of care differed between schedules (patients with multiple intensivists = 28% under continuous schedule vs. 62% under interrupted scheduling; P < 0.0001). LOS and mortality were nonsignificantly higher under continuous scheduling (ΔICU LOS 0.36 d, P = 0.20; Δhospital LOS 0.34 d, P = 0.71; ICU mortality, odds ratio = 1.43, P = 0.12; hospital mortality, odds ratio = 1.17,P = 0.41). Intensivists experienced significantly higher burnout, work–home life imbalance, and job distress working under the continuous schedule.

Conclusions: Work schedules where intensivists received weekend breaks were better for the physicians and, despite lower continuity of intensivist care, did not worsen outcomes for medical ICU patients.

Trial registration: NCT01145443.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • After-Hours Care
  • Burnout, Professional / prevention & control
  • Continuity of Patient Care*
  • Hospital Mortality
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units* / organization & administration
  • Length of Stay
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Personnel Staffing and Scheduling*
  • Prospective Studies
  • United States
  • Workforce

Associated data