Environmental impact of a blood test reduction intervention in adult intensive care units: A before and after quality improvement project

Aust Crit Care. 2024 May 15:S1036-7314(24)00074-2. doi: 10.1016/j.aucc.2024.03.006. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Background: Pathology testing is a very common investigation in the intensive care unit (ICU). Many tests are ordered on a routine basis rather than for a specific clinical indication, resulting in potential patient harm and unnecessary financial and environmental costs.

Objective: The objective of this study was to determine whether a multifaceted intervention based on the principles of education, audit, and feedback can result in a decrease in unnecessary pathology tests without a commensurate increase in adverse patient outcomes and to measure this decrease in terms of the associated reduction in environmental and financial costs.

Methods: A before and after quality improvement project was conducted between 2017 and 2019 across four ICUs in three 12-month phases, divided according to baseline, intervention implementation, and follow-up. Local clinician champions from each site partnered with the project coordinating centre to develop and implement a range of interventions based on the principles of education, audit, and feedback. Data were collected for the number of pathology tests performed and the clinical characteristics of patients admitted to a participating ICU across the three phases.

Results: A total of 196 323 arterial blood gases and 460 258 other tests across eight categories were performed on the 22 210 patients admitted to participating ICUs during the project. A decrease in testing was observed across all but one category, with the greatest reduction seen in arterial blood gases (31.2% reduction in tests per bed-day). Across all categories, this equated to a mean reduction of 1.8 tCO2e (tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent), a potential estimated total saving of Australian dollar $918 497.50. No increase in adverse clinical outcomes was observed.

Conclusion: A multifaceted intervention based on the principles of education, audit, and feedback can produce a significant decrease in the number of unnecessary pathology tests performed. This reduction translates to substantial environmental and financial savings without any associated increase in adverse patient outcomes.

Keywords: Carbon footprint; Critical care; Healthcare costs; Pathology; Quality improvement.