Rationale: A small but growing number of hospitals are experimenting with emergency department-embedded critical care units (CCUs) in an effort to improve the quality of care for critically ill patients with sepsis and acute respiratory failure (ARF).Objectives: To evaluate the potential impact of an emergency department-embedded CCU at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania among patients with sepsis and ARF admitted from the emergency department to a medical ward or intensive care unit (ICU) from January 2016 to December 2017.Methods: The exposure was eligibility for admission to the emergency department-embedded CCU, which was defined as meeting a clinical definition for sepsis or ARF and admission to the emergency department during the intervention period on a weekday. The primary outcome was hospital length of stay (LOS); secondary outcomes included total emergency department plus ICU LOS, hospital survival, direct admission to the ICU, and unplanned ICU admission. Primary interrupted time series analyses were performed using ordinary least squares regression comparing monthly means. Secondary retrospective cohort and before-after analyses used multivariable Cox proportional hazard and logistic regression.Results: In the baseline and intervention periods, 3,897 patients met the inclusion criteria for sepsis and 1,865 patients met the criteria for ARF. Among patients admitted with sepsis, opening of the emergency department-embedded CCU was not associated with hospital LOS (β = -1.82 d; 95% confidence interval [CI], -4.50 to 0.87; P = 0.17 for the first month after emergency department-embedded CCU opening compared with baseline; β = -0.26 d; 95% CI, -0.58 to 0.06; P = 0.10 for subsequent months). Among patients admitted with ARF, the emergency department-embedded CCU was not associated with a significant change in hospital LOS for the first month after emergency department-embedded CCU opening (β = -3.25 d; 95% CI, -7.86 to 1.36; P = 0.15) but was associated with a 0.64 d/mo shorter hospital LOS for subsequent months (β = -0.64 d; 95% CI, -1.12 to -0.17; P = 0.01). This result persisted among higher acuity patients requiring ventilatory support but was not supported by alternative analytic approaches. Among patients admitted with sepsis who did not require mechanical ventilation or vasopressors in the emergency department, the emergency department-embedded CCU was associated with an initial 9.9% reduction in direct ICU admissions in the first month (β = -0.099; 95% CI, -0.153 to -0.044; P = 0.002), followed by a 1.1% per month increase back toward baseline in subsequent months (β = 0.011; 95% CI, 0.003-0.019; P = 0.009). This relationship was supported by alternative analytic approaches and was not seen in ARF. No associations with emergency department plus ICU LOS, hospital survival, or unplanned ICU admission were observed among patients with sepsis or ARF.Conclusions: The emergency department-embedded CCU was not associated with clinical outcomes among patients admitted with sepsis or ARF. Among less sick patients with sepsis, the emergency department-embedded CCU was initially associated with reduced rates of direct ICU admission from the emergency department. Additional research is necessary to further evaluate the impact and utility of the emergency department-embedded CCU model.
Keywords: acute respiratory failure; capacity strain; emergency department critical care; intensive care unit admission; sepsis.