Critical Care Clinicians' Experiences of Patient Safety During the COVID-19 Pandemic

J Patient Saf. 2022 Dec 1;18(8):e1219-e1225. doi: 10.1097/PTS.0000000000001060. Epub 2022 Aug 6.


Objective: It is unknown how hospital- and systems-level factors have impacted patient safety in the intensive care unit (ICU) during the COVID-19 pandemic. We sought to understand how the pandemic has exacerbated preexisting patient safety issues and created novel patient safety challenges in ICUs in the United States.

Methods: We performed a national, multi-institutional, mixed-methods survey of critical care clinicians to elicit experiences related to patient safety during the pandemic. The survey was disseminated via email through the Society of Critical Care Medicine listserv. Data were reported as valid percentages, compared by COVID caseload and peak of the pandemic; free-text responses were analyzed and coded for themes.

Results: We received 335 survey responses. On general patient safety, 61% felt that conditions were more hazardous when compared with the prepandemic period. Those who took care of mostly COVID-19 patients were more likely to perceive that care was more hazardous (odds ratio, 4.89; 95% CI, 2.49-9.59) compared with those who took care of mostly non-COVID-19 or no COVID-19 patients. In free-text responses, providers identified patient safety risks related to pandemic adaptations, such as ventilator-related lung injury, medication and diagnostic errors, oversedation, oxygen device removal, and falls.

Conclusions: Increased COVID-19 case burden was significantly associated with perceptions of a less safe patient care environment by frontline ICU clinicians. Results of the qualitative analysis identified specific patient safety hazards in ICUs across the United States as downstream consequences of hospital and provider strain during periods of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • COVID-19* / prevention & control
  • Critical Care
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Pandemics
  • Patient Safety