Post-ICU Care in the Outpatient Setting

Am Fam Physician. 2021 May 15;103(10):590-596.


More than 5 million patients in the United States are admitted to intensive care units (ICUs) annually, and an increasing percentage of patients treated in the ICU survive to hospital discharge. Because these patients require follow-up in the outpatient setting, family physicians should be prepared to provide ongoing care and screening for post-ICU complications. Risk factors for complications after ICU discharge include previous ICU admissions, preexisting mental illness, greater number of comorbidities, and prolonged mechanical ventilation or higher opioid exposure while in the ICU. Early nutritional support and mobilization in the ICU decrease the risk of complications. After ICU discharge, patients should be screened for depression, anxiety, insomnia, and cognitive impairment using standardized screening tools. Physicians should also inquire about weakness, fatigue, neuropathy, and functional impairment and perform a targeted physical examination and laboratory evaluation as indicated; treatment depends on the underlying cause. Exercise regimens are beneficial for reducing several post-ICU complications. Patients who were treated for COVID-19 in the ICU may require additional instruction on reducing the risk of virus transmission. Telemedicine and telerehabilitation allow patients with COVID-19 to receive effective care without increasing exposure risk in communities, hospitals, and medical offices.

MeSH terms

  • Aftercare* / methods
  • Aftercare* / psychology
  • Ambulatory Care* / methods
  • Ambulatory Care* / standards
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology
  • COVID-19 / therapy*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / etiology
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / rehabilitation
  • Continuity of Patient Care* / organization & administration
  • Continuity of Patient Care* / standards
  • Critical Care / methods
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units / statistics & numerical data
  • Patient Discharge
  • Physical Functional Performance
  • Quality Improvement
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • United States