Direct observation of bed utilization in the pediatric intensive care unit

J Hosp Med. 2012 Apr;7(4):318-24. doi: 10.1002/jhm.993. Epub 2011 Nov 21.


Background: The pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), with limited number of beds and resource-intensive services, is a key component of patient flow. Because the PICU is a crossroads for many patients, transfer or discharge delays can negatively impact a patient's clinical status and efficiency.

Objective: The objective of this study was to describe, using direct observation, PICU bed utilization.

Methods: We conducted a real-time, prospective observational study in a convenience sample of days in the PICU of an urban, tertiary-care children's hospital.

Results: Among 824 observed hours, 19,887 bed-hours were recorded, with 82% being for critical care services and 18% for non-critical care services. Fourteen activities accounted for 95% of bed-hours. Among 200 hours when the PICU was at full capacity, 75% of the time included at least 1 bed that was used for non-critical care services; 37% of the time at least 2 beds. The mean waiting time for a floor bed assignment was 9 hours (median, 5.5 hours) and accounted for 4.62% of all bed-hours observed.

Conclusions: The PICU delivered critical care services most of the time, but periods of non-critical care services represented a significant amount of time. In particular, periods with no bed available for new patients were associated with at least 1 or more PICU beds being used for non-critical care activities. The method should be reproducible in other settings to learn more about the structure and processes of care and patient flow and to make improvements.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bed Occupancy / statistics & numerical data*
  • Beds / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Resources / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units, Pediatric / statistics & numerical data*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Prospective Studies
  • Time Factors