An empirical derivation of the optimal time interval for defining ICU readmissions

Med Care. 2013 Aug;51(8):706-14. doi: 10.1097/MLR.0b013e318293c2fa.


Background: Intensive care unit (ICU) readmission rates are commonly viewed as indicators of ICU quality. However, definitions of ICU readmissions vary, and it is unknown which, if any, readmissions are associated with ICU quality.

Objective: Empirically derive the optimal interval between ICU discharge and readmission for purposes of considering ICU readmission as an ICU quality indicator.

Research design: Retrospective cohort study.

Subjects: A total of 214,692 patients discharged from 157 US ICUs participating in the Project IMPACT database, 2001-2008.

Measures: We graphically examined how patient characteristics and ICU discharge circumstances (eg, ICU census) were related to the odds of ICU readmissions as the allowable interval between ICU discharge and readmission was lengthened. We defined the optimal interval by identifying inflection points where these relationships changed significantly and permanently.

Results: A total of 2242 patients (1.0%) were readmitted to the ICU within 24 hours; 9062 (4.2%) within 7 days. Patient characteristics exhibited stronger associations with readmissions after intervals >48-60 hours. By contrast, ICU discharge circumstances and ICU interventions (eg, mechanical ventilation) exhibited weaker relationships as intervals lengthened, with inflection points at 30-48 hours. Because of the predominance of afternoon readmissions regardless of time of discharge, using intervals defined by full calendar days rather than fixed numbers of hours produced more valid results.

Discussion: It remains uncertain whether ICU readmission is a valid quality indicator. However, having established 2 full calendar days (not 48 h) after ICU discharge as the optimal interval for measuring ICU readmissions, this study will facilitate future research designed to determine its validity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units / organization & administration*
  • Intensive Care Units / standards
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Patient Readmission / standards
  • Patient Readmission / statistics & numerical data*
  • Quality Indicators, Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Quality Indicators, Health Care / standards
  • Quality of Health Care / organization & administration
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sex Factors
  • Time Factors
  • United States