Importance: The safety of discharging adult patients recovering from critical illness directly home from the intensive care unit (ICU) is unknown.
Objective: To compare the health care utilization and clinical outcomes for ICU patients discharged directly home from the ICU with those of patients discharged home via the hospital ward.
Design, setting, and participants: Retrospective population-based cohort study of adult patients admitted to the ICU of 9 medical-surgical hospitals from January 1, 2014, to January 1, 2016, with 1-year follow-up after hospital discharge. All adult ICU patients were discharged home alive from hospital, and the propensity score matched cohort (1:1) was based on patient characteristics, therapies received in the ICU, and hospital characteristics.
Exposures: Patient disposition on discharge from the ICU: directly home vs home via the hospital ward.
Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcome was readmission to the hospital within 30 days of hospital discharge. The secondary outcomes were emergency department visit within 30 days and death within 1 year.
Results: Among the 6732 patients included in the study, 2826 (42%) were female; median age, 56 years (interquartile range, 41-67 years); 922 (14%) were discharged directly home, with significant variation found between hospitals (range, 4.4%-44.0%). Compared with patients discharged home via the hospital ward, patients discharged directly home were younger (median age 47 vs 57 years; P < .001), more likely to be admitted with a diagnosis of overdose, substance withdrawal, seizures, or metabolic coma (32%  vs 10% ; P < .001), to have a lower severity of acute illness on ICU admission (median APACHE II score 15 vs 18; P < .001), and receive less than 48 hours of invasive mechanical ventilation (42%  vs 34% ; P < .001). In the propensity score matched cohort (n = 1632), patients discharged directly home had similar length of ICU stay (median, 3.1 days vs 3.0 days; P = .42) but significantly shorter length of hospital stay (median, 3.3 days vs 9.2 days; P < .001) compared with patients discharged home via the hospital ward. There were no significant differences between patients discharged directly home or home via the hospital ward for readmission to the hospital (10% [n = 81] vs 11% [n = 92]; hazard ratio [HR], 0.88; 95% CI, 0.64-1.20) or emergency department visit (25% [n = 200] vs 26% [n = 212]; HR, 0.94; 95% CI, 0.81-1.09) within 30 days of hospital discharge. Four percent of patients in both groups died within 1 year of hospital discharge (n = 31 and n = 34 in the discharged directly home and discharged home via the hospital ward groups, respectively) (HR, 0.90; 95% CI, 0.60-1.35).
Conclusions and relevance: The discharge of select adult patients directly home from the ICU is common, and it is not associated with increased health care utilization or increased mortality.